Saturday, October 8, 2011

An Evolution of Caves, Chaos, and Things Therein

Many eons ago in 1980 I received, as a kid, the Erol Otus red box basic Dungeons & Dragons set. The first module I ran was the one inside the box: The Keep on the Borderlands, of which the Caves of Chaos was a distinct component. It was a fun module. Among other things I recall using pushpins to track character and monster movement; there were six characters, and almost everyone died. We were using AD&D yellow character sheets....they didn't exactly mesh with Basic D&D, but hey, we were 10 years old, we made it work. It was immense fun.

As the years went by, my mastery of D&D and RPGs grew exponentially, and my wold-building skills evolved, turning into a weird sort of monstrous subset of the hobby itself (seriously, I could spend my time designing settings and environments and never actually play and I'd still feel relatively satisfied; I suspect I am not alone in this). That said, the Caves of Chaos have always remained a special place for my gaming memories, and I have always kept some rendition of it in existence in my original campaign setting, the Keepers of Lingusia. What follows is the latest iteration of it, a version of the Caves of Chaos that I originally wrote up based roughly on the original module sometime in the early 80's, retooled again and again into the weird curiosity below. This version is for 4th edition D&D, and I actually ran it early last year; it was kind of trippy, as all I did was try to convert the material to the spirit of the rules while retaining as much of the original from the late 80's as possible. The net effect is a dungeon with a lot of old-school sensibilities.

The maps are god-awful, and my apologies; I may still have the originals around, or perhaps I'll take some time to put them into Dungeon Crafter. For now, they remain as-is, a part (for me, at least) of the retro-charm of the module. I shall put each of the four levels in over the next few days...

FINAL DISCLAIMER! This module has been written, regurgitated, reconstituted and replayed in multiple forms over nearly thirty years. It has been restatted for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th edition D&D and it may bear artifacts of prior editions I have no doubt overlooked. In fact I was surprised at how many I found. It has never really reached a state that I would consider "suitable for public consumption" in a manner that involved the exchange of coin, and it really doesn't even meet my standards for what a scenario dungeon delve would look like is an artifact of my past, preserved by nostalgia. With all those warnings in place.... enjoy!

The Caves of Chaos
A Dungeon Delve: Level I 
Copyright 2011 by Tori Bergquist, all rights reserved                                                                                                  

   The Caves of Chaos is one of the oldest dungeons I ever devised, and remains one of the most venerable.  It is ostensibly the principle range of occupied caverns in the Chaos Mountains within Mitra’s Forest, a region nestled between Octzel and Hyrkania in the Middle Kingdoms of lingusia, a no-man’s land in an otherwise civilized heartland riddled with monsters, dungeons, dark cults and forgotten mysteries. Mitra’s Forest itself is rife with all sorts of unusual dangers, but the Caves of Chaos is most famous of them all.
   The Caves of Chaos can and should easily fit in to any setting you like. It is sufficiently generic that there should be few specific details that need to be changed; just find a suitable range of mountains and drop it in. The caves are designed for old-school style open-ended game play, so if you want to keep players from wandering in to areas that are too dangerous, you should try giving them a guide (like a small angry kobold) or some hints that will keep them from tackling unexpectedly difficult regions. On the other hand, the whole point of an old-school approach is to let the players figure it out for themselves, so I suggest that rather than steer them away fro a difficult foe, simply give them the good grace for a wise retreat when monster X starts kicking the crap out of them!
   The encounters in the Caves of Chaos range from level 1-10 and a careful crew of delvers ought to advance several levels in the course of exploring this place. A healthy crew of adventurers is also recommended; if the party is too small or too large then the DM might want to adjust the encounters a bit, adding or subtracting foes as appropriate.

A Short History of the Caves of Chaos
   The Caves of Chaos are situated within a turbulent volcanic mountain range deep in the heart of Mitra’s Forest. The legends tell of how the mountains were thrust up in ancient times by the magic of the old chaos gods to form a circle of thrones for these old and vile deities, where they would reconvene and scheme about the destruction of the world. Luckily, such things happened long ago, and the lords of chaos have more or less passed on to the annals of myth and forgotten lore.
   The history of the mountain range and its perforated network of tunnels is one of constant conflict and treacherous warfare. Early in the history of this range orcish tribes migrated in to the region and discovered a vast wealth of ancient caverns, formed from older natural networks of tunnels layered with basalt lava tubes that would stretch for miles. This was an ideal environment for the nocturnal race of orcs, and they settled in, making the caverns their own.
   Over the course of many centuries a number of other subterranean species migrated in to the caverns, including the kruthik and others. Solitary or exiled loners would find their way to the caverns such as the ancient undead necromancer Gauntligore, to make the caverns a safe and remote testing ground for his necrotic experiments.
   Throughout history, the Caves of Chaos have remained consistent in its almost unchanging nature. The world outside has changed with the inevitable progress of time, civilizations rising and falling, but the Caves of Chaos remains, as is, a perpetual threat for dungeon delvers to challenge themselves with.

A Word about Blyskanyu and the Races of Orcs
   The orcs who inhabit the caves are called blyskanyu, which means in the Anyu tongue, basically, the Blue Skins. These orcs have a blue-grey tinge to their skin, and they, like all orcish races of Lingusia, are known for their racial stock by this distinguishing feature. Orcs who interbreed between races will usually produce an offspring of the same skin tone as the father, but it is rarely the case that the mother’s skin tone will carry on to her siblings. Curiously, orcish racial stock never intermixes; a red orc mother (thyzzakoni) and a blue orc father will always have a blue skinned litter, and on very rare occasions one might be red skinned, but the two parents will never have an inter-racial child, one who is a mixture of the two. It is a curious side effect of orcish breeding the skin color remains oddly fixed.
   Orcish races usually cooperate well together under the right circumstances, such as when a powerful warlord, shaman, or evil sorcerer has them in thrall. Most of the time, though, they factionalize and avoid contact except for periods of war and during mating season, in which the orcs of one tribe seek to capture the females of another tribe to increase their harems and breed more young orcish warriors.
   Most orcs are considered adults by the age of ten; a ten year old orcish male is already over five feet tall, for example, and as strong as a dwarf. Orcs are strongly partrilineal, and so the male children have a strong loyalty to their father. Curiously, the mothers of these orcs are also especially revered, although they tend to look upon young orc females as commodities rather than as individuals. The elders of an orcish clan are respected greatly by the younger clan warriors and women, both males and females.
   Orcs of Lingusia are a stouter and somewhat more robust breed than can be found in other universes. Blyskanyu orcs, for example, have wide, barrel-like chests, long snouts filled with teeth that look both porcine and crocodilian all at once. Their bluish grey skin is leathery and rough, and has a dusty, almost chalky quality. Female orcs have shorter snouts, and are superficially similar to human women in physique, but are still just as monstrous as the men. As orcs age, they are prone to putting on great weight. Most elder war chieftains are immense, with huge guts and folds of fat sandwiched in to tight armor that has been let out to hold their immense girth.
   Orcs speak their own language, which they call Anyu. Orcish as a written language is rather crude, and borrows many characters and concepts from other languages, but it does exist. The oldest original form of orcish script is runic, and works symbolically, but cannot be used to tell stories or evoke complex thoughts. Surprisingly, the more fluid component of the orcish script is stolen, it seems, from the elves, especially the ashtarth dark elves, who may have taught their written language to orcs long ago.
   Orcs revere their creator god, a foul beast called Baragnagor, who is a mad idiot-god that is chimeric, comprised of many different beast-parts. In the orcish mythic history, Baragnagor created the orcs by stealing the parts of other gods’ creations, including the head of crocodile, the torso of a dwarf and the legs and arms of a human. The orcish shamanic tradition is a curious one, for they always venerate and pay homage to Baragnagor, but frequently seek out the secrets and powers of demonic lords and chaos gods to append their own interests. As such, orcs have come to revere many other dark beings, including Orcus, Set, and others.

Quests and Adventure Hooks
   Unless you’re a monster, no one just goes to the Caves of Chaos for fun or by accident, unless they are really, really unlucky. In fact, there are so many dangers and threats in Mitra’s Forest that just getting to the Caves of Chaos can be a journey unto its own.
   The following work as plot hooks and quest ideas for why an intrepid crew of delvers would seek out the infamous caverns, although a sufficiently brazen crew might do so simply because it is there. Still, having some reasons for the journey help!
   One of the following plot hooks looks at the caves from the opposite point of view, of the monster. A game in which all the PCs play monstrous characters such as orcs, goblins, kobolds and gnolls could be a very entertaining twist on the traditional dungeon delve, and that quest option will supply some interesting options for such characters, even if only one member of the delving group is a monster.

Mission #1: Free Lord Anton Gonn Theramis
   Lord Anton Gonn Theramis is a famous nobleman of the city of Midas, an entrepreneur who was investing time and effort in fielding an expeditionary force in to the depths of Mitra’s Forest. He had founded a small keep, Theramis Keep, which stood strong for eight years while sturdy mercenaries and soldiers in his employ protected the local lumber mill and farms of stalwart serfs that Theramis populated the region with.
   Unbeknownst to Theramis, his works did not go unnoticed, and the warlord of the Wolfgut tribe, O’kai-Galagos Madorag staged an attack on the keep and its protected region. The fighting was fierce, but a thousand and more orcs overwhelmed the humans in one night of ferocious fighting. Theramis surrendered after the keep was devasted by goblin sappers Madorag had employed, and he was taken for ransom.
   Madorag saw profit to be had. He sent a quartet of warriors to the gates of the town of Gerton, where they delivered a wagon full of the heads of slain settlers and mercenaries, then declared that should the house of Theramis wish to see their favored lord back, then they must deliver 500,000 gold pieces to the ruins of Theramis Keep, within one month.
   Theramis’s wife, Erisha, was frantic on receiving the news from runners sent by the baron of Gerton in Midas a week later. She knew she couldn’t manage the cash without liquidating the bulk of her family’s assets, and her uncle, Molaris, suggested she employ mercenaries to seek out Theramis and try to free him. Thus did the adventurers come in to the scene.
   Erisha’s offer to the adventurers is simple enough, totaling 10,000 gold pieces for the return of her husband alive, 1,000 gold if they return with his body for proper burial at least. She will also offer them a parcel of land in Theramis-held territory near Midas, an acre for each adventurer. The adventurers could use this acreage for any purpose they so desire, although selling it for about 500 gold per acre is also possible.
Optional Link: One of the PCs is a cousin or similar relation to Theramis. This PC has a vested personal interest in freeing his relative from the clutches of the orcs.
Quest Goal: Free Theramis from the clutches of the Wolfgut Tribe
 Reward: 1,500 experience points and 10,000 gps if freed alive, 1,000 gps if brought back dead

Mission #2: The Clever Con and His New Bride
   Three weeks ago a wealthy merchant lord from the southern desert kingdom of Galonia named Callastos Lenederon was managing an overland caravan that took the north passage from Eastonia to the city of Pheralin. Accompanying the merchant lord was his daughter, the voluptuously beautiful Persidia Lenederon. When they arrived in Pheralin, to conduct business and sell rare spices over the course of the next month, Persidia caught the eye of a young rogue named Mangerius the Sly. Mangerius was an up-and-coming con man in the city, looking for an easy mark. Persidia looked like exactly that. After a whirlwind affair, the two ran off to elope, guaranteeing Mangerius would become the inheritor of Callastos’s fortune, as he saw it.  
   Unfortunately, Mangerius didn’t anticipate the wrath of Persidia’s father, who on discovering of their marriage flew in to a rage and hired a trio of local blades to find Mangerius and slay him. After a brief conflict in which Mangerius was lucky enough to escape alive with Persidia, they fled in to the wilderness. Five nights later, camping in the woods of Mitra’s Forest, a squadron of Kruthik searchers snatched them from the cave entrance where they had been seeking escape from a strong evening downpour.
   Callastos, after recovering his wits, realized his error. He has decided to regard his new and unintended son-in-law more carefully, but realizes they have fled the city. He hires the PCs to track Mangerius and Persidia down, and bring them back for apologies. He offers the PCs 1,000 gold pieces for their safe return, although he makes no other particular stipulations, since he does not realize the danger that the two have fallen to.
Optional Links: The PCs could have started this earlier, as the blades hired to exact revenge on Mangerius, who in turn escapes thanks to a gang of thugs that owe him a favor and block the PCs while the duo escape. In this case, the PCs were initially offered 100 gold each for the assassination.
   Alternatively, one of the PCs could be a loyalist to Callastos, either a relative or servant who was charged with protecting Persidia, and is therefore personally responsible for her.
Quest Goal: Rescue Persidia and Mangerius, return them to Pheralin and Callastos for reconciliation
Reward: 2,500 experience points and 1,000 gps if returned alive

Mission #3: In Search of the Necromancer
   The agents of the Black Society are a nefarious lot of undead, lycanthropes and other nocturnal scum who dwell in secrecy within the Capitol city of Octzel; NPCs of a darker caliber may be tasked with investigating the rumors of this mysterious Gaunligore in the caves…. 

The First Level of the Caves of Chaos:
The Wolfgut Tribal Caves
1. Central Entry Chamber.
The gaping maw of the cavernous entrance is etched with the signs of millenia of occupation. The ceiling is stained with thick black soot, war paint and dried necrotic effigies are scattered along the walls, and the floor is trod flat with the passage of endless feet.
Seven brutish, blue-grey skinned, bristle-haired orcs, the Blyskanyu, with their ponderously fat guts and many chins beneath a crocodillian maw stare at you with beady eyes. "Halt, strangers," he speaks in a broken trade tongue. "You are in Wolfgut territory here!" He signals, and one of his men nervously move next to a polished steel mirror on a stand in the far corner of the entry chamber. Runes are etched on the reflective surface.

Here are stationed seven warrior orcs at all times to prevent unlawful entry into the lair of the Wolfgut clan. Knowing the passphrase ("May Baragnagor wallow forever more in the intestines of our slain enemies") will allow passage, but humans and demi-humans giving this password will be looked upon suspiciously and escorted in. In the corner of the chamber is a large polished steel mirror. This mirror is enchanted by Glammorang, the Witch Doctor, who sees all who dare enter the sanctum sanctorum of the tribe. Should a dramatic fight ensue, and attackers siege the front entrance, this would allow reinforcements to be called. Under special circumstances, Glammorang can teleport 1d6 skeletons through the mirror, into the chamber, to strike.

2. The Grand Chamber of the War Chieftains. Here, the evening festivities of the tribe, war celebrations, executions, trials, and trade debates all occur. During the day, the PCs will likely enter this chamber to the throng of at least a hundred humanoid denizens participating in strange matters and affairs, all presided over by Lord O’kai-Galagos Madorag the second, and his advisor Glammorang. Occasionally, Sillatun or the Necromancer can be seen present. The activity will be one of the following, or a combination:
D4        Result
1          Rival tribe warriors of the Bloodfury gang, the Wargrinder tribe, an ogre clan, or the Silver Dagger clan bickering over territory or engaging in local trading
2          Merchants from Bargan or Trog, presenting exotic goods in exchange for money taken from the dead hands of the East Mountain Maddendur and Darendur dwarves.
3          An execution, of a woman-stealer, food thief, a rival tribe member, or a captured human or demi human.
4          Gladiatorial sport, in which two rivals fight to the death, or one warrior champion stands against a captured manticore, an imported giant scorpion, a captured kruthik or giant spider.
Characters interrupting the proceedings will be rudely assaulted and brought to an immediate trial. Demi humans will always attract unwanted attention.

3. The Mausoleum of War. This lengthy catacomb region is haunted, both by possessing spirits, animated skeletons and zombies, and Huecuvas. All such creatures are servants of the Necromancer, who has quietly worked his magics to animate these fiends, and periodically uses them as leverage to encourage the Wolfgut tribe to do his bidding. The supernatural horror that the orcs feel for this now abandoned catacomb region and mausoleum keeps them in order.
The mausoleum itself has five major chambers which go to the chambers of forgotten War Chieftains. Each one is protected by a variety of traps which, while lacking cleverness, are certainly formidable to cross. These traps are ...

a. A lengthy spiked pit that runs the full length of the entry hall. The pit itself opens on to an unexplored cavern chamber below, which houses a nesting den of hooked horrors. The spikes protrude from twelve metal bars that have been lain across the bottom-most lip of the pit; a PC falling in has a 20% chance of missing the spikes entirely and slipping between; a Reflex Save at DC 16 will let him or her catch on to the bars as he goes by. The fall is worth10d6 damage and drops the PC 47 feet (kind GMs may allow for only 4d6 falling damage. I don't). A PC hitting the spikes will catch ld4 of them; each does ld4 damage, and any spike which does 4 points of damage has impaled the PC somehow, and a Fortitude Save at DC 18 must be made for the character to extract himself from the impaling spike.
Within this chamber are five entombed bodies, all animated as living skeletons. Each wears the partial plate armor of the Wolfgut tribe, and spiked bucklers. They all fight with scimitars; one scimitar is a +1, Keen weapon. Treasure in this chamber includes a golden horse statuette (worth 150 gp), 1700 sp, 893 gp, and thousands of copper.

b. This entry hall is guarded by a lone skeleton warrior, an ancient undead black orc wight who loyally served his chief-king, even into the afterlife. He will bar entry to all, and attack any who cross a line of chalk powder upon the floor; he will not cross the line himself. Being pushed across the line will result in the freeing of his spirit.
There is only one body entombed within, of a legendary war chieftain of old. He has been reanimated by the necromancer as a vampire servant. When PCs enter the tomb, he will not stir for five minutes. He wears the sacred orcish full plate armor of Okai +2, Leadership ( grants all properties of the Leadership feat while worn), and bears a Great Scimitar +1. On his head is a helm of telepathy. On the ground is at least 31,000 gp worth of treasure. When he arises, he will initially compliment them on the defeat of his guardian. Then, he will allow each PC to declare a challenge for the treasure they would leave with. Those who are stupid enough to take the challenge will likely die.
PCs who are smart will learn that he cannot cross the chalk outside, either ... blyskanyu orc vampires are repelled by it. He might try to trick a PC in to disturbing the chalk line, however....

c. This tomb is guarded by the ghost of an orcish priest, which will arise from the dust of the entry hall floor, form into a vague and horrifying shape, and shout hissing curses upon the PCs. Everyone must make a Will save DC 20 or flee in terror, remaking the save until they succeed each round. The door of the tomb is covered with Corpse Dust, a rotting fungal disease which, if touched, has the effects of mummy rot. The door itself is cemented shut, and the locks have been destroyed. Only a great feat of strength will open it.
The treasure and animated skeletons in this room are very much like in room a, but there are seven skeletons, and one ghoul. The ghoul is chained in a corner, lying down; it is still for two minutes, and only its peculiar lack of rot, plus strong stench will give it away before coming to life and attacking. It's chains prevent escape from the chamber.

d. At four random points along this entry hall are pressure plates (DC 18 to detect) which trigger and drop metal guillotines; releasing pressure in the plates (usually caused by a split body falling in different directions) causes a suction that pulls the fine steel plates back up into the roof. Spider webs on the roof are thick enough to disguise the exit slots (DC 22 to spot the slots). The only clue to doom here would be the fragmented, hewed bones lying everywhere.
Inside this chamber is nothing save shattered bones .... someone else has already looted here. But clever PCs will notice a secret door in the far wall, one which leads up to the third level, inhabited by the Necromancer. This winding cave tunnel is precarious to crawl up, and will require proficiency checks. Halfway up is a corpse and a warning etched with a knife in the wall. "I entered his lair, and escaped only this far. Turn back, lest ye fall to my same fate." PCs then will find a skeletal corpse hammered into the wall through the chest with pitons that were undoubtedly his own.... A knife with a blunted point is still clutched in the hand. The knife is -1 to damage because of this. It appears to have been forged in the city of Eastonia, by the signature of the pommel.

Art by Sheezor

10. The Prison Rooms and Dungeons. Here are the prisoners of the chieftain, enemies of the tribe, and those unfortunate enough to get a life sentence rather than a death sentence. This facility is run by the Executioner and Dungeon Master Gagarag, a Black Orc of great renown (seventh level Warrior). Under him are twenty orcish warriors who are in various areas of this dungeon, or off duty in the tribe chambers. The dungeon itself has a well-to-do torture chamber (a), prison cells (where lord Theramis of Midas is to be found) (b), interrogation room (c), Fighting pens (d), and in a side passage, has a private sauna (e). This sauna, used by the elite of the community, is a hot spring warmed by volcanic activity in the mountain chain.

4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. The House Chambers of the Clan.
This string of corridors, smaller chambers, and larger community chambers make up the core of the tribal dwelling areas. Foolish adventurers who think they can just troop on through here should think twice; More than fifteen hundred orcs compose the Wolfgut tribe. In this nest of caverns can be found family chambers (4), community meeting chambers (5). the trade rooms (6), the wolf breeding chambers (7), guard chambers opening onto uncontrolled caverns (8), prayer rooms to Baragnagor and Wolfon (9), and so forth. Only PCs in good standing with the Wolfguts or disguised will be able to travel through these areas unquestioned.
11. Entrance to the lower caverns. A great buttressed wall has been built across the closer entrance to this steep, sloping cave leading down into the darkness. Here, orcs and others are afraid to travel further on, knowing of the dreadful horrors below. Many spawn of Lord Vestillios, the Demiurge of Chaos's strange alchemical experiments were unleashed below, and many natural horrors lurk as well. The only known civilized groups to have ever come up from below include parties of wandering Darendur (Dep Dwarves), on their eternal quest for Mithril, mongrelmen from Vestillios's experiments (Chaos Beasts), and the Strange Mirrored Men, with dark formless cloaks and faces etched out of pure glass. Their strange preachings of the mysterious Codex Elch'dinominous are listened to with uncertain fascination by the tribe members until four days have passed and they leave, or the tribal shamans get in a huff and ask them to leave. A century ago, it is told, priests of Baragnagor, demon god of the Blyskanyu, grew enraged with certain things the Mirrored Men uttered, and attacked them. The Mirrored Men engulfed them in hellish magics, and the priests were destroyed.
Dotting the landscape outside the wall are pikes with the heads of orcish enemies mounted upon them. Adventurers walking deeper into the caverns will hear the crunch of dead chitinous shell, shed by the rotting bodies of Hooked Horrors picked off from the wall tops. Further down, the slope gets very steep indeed, and DC 15 Spot checks or anyone with the tracking feat are needed to locate the trail which runs narrowly down at a steep angle; a normal Dex check or Balance check at DC 14 on the trail will prevent injury. Failure means a plunge for 1d6x10 feet down before hitting something that stops the PC's descent.
Continuing from here leads to the Lower Caverns ...

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