Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Caves Of Chaos

Drunken dwarvish architecture.
Maw Of The Beastmen.
Mimeographing your setup.
Not-sense is not nonsense.

Sentence fragments bounce around my head when I look at the Caves of Chaos. Classic module, repurposed for the 5e playtest, I've never seen it before, no idea if it resembles the original, wouldn't run it as-is. I like the notes on Why PCs Are Here, and also the encouragement to play through it however you're inclined. That never hurts.

DRUNKEN DWARVISH ARCHITECTURE: Phrase coined by my wife to describe floorplans like this -- bad flowcharts of random boxes connected by random lines. Spaces nobody would live in; spaces that don't take life into account.

MAW OF THE BEASTMEN: I'm reskinning most of the inhabitants to manimalist hybrids -- ratmen, boarmen, etc. Not especially original either, but more exciting than yet another warren of orcgoblinhobgoblingnollblaaaarrgh. Plus assigning them to familiar animals will make it easier to improvise details about their lives, lifestyles, living quarters, preferred food, and all the other stuff that my players will want to know. Please let's not keep moving PCs through arbitrary underground deathtraps populated by the same old same old. Sucks the sense of wonder right out of the room.

MIMEOGRAPHING YOUR SETUP: This place is Levittown for humanoids. Entrance, guardroom, another guardroom, maybe storage, chief's quarters, big warren for everyone else. One race might live that way, maybe. Six wouldn't.

NOT-SENSE IS NOT NONSENSE: There's a difference between "dungeons are different and weeeird and reflect our unconscious surreal fears" and bad layout. This is bad layout. It just doesn't make sense, and it's not interesting enough to be nonsense.

I'll still run it for the wife and kids. We'll test-drive the proto5e mechanics. I hope that the next playtest phase moves out of the dungeon -- an updated Isle Of Dread would be pretty sweet.

What would also be sweet is the inclusion of the Keep On The Borderlands that was originally near the caves.


  1. I get the impression (having and currently running the original B2 module) that the caves and the surrounding keep are intentionally written as simple, and slightly repetitive. The original module is written with a minimally reproduced collection of the core rules, and filled with detail on how to play the game itself. My guess is the entrance, guard, guard, storage, chief patters in in part to allow a new DM multiple attempts at the same basic structure to get a feel for DMing, without having it always be the same monster or the exact same layout for the players.

    1. That makes a lot of sense for something designed as an introduction for new players and GMs. But for a new edition playtest? I'd wager that a majority of people involved in the 5e playtest -- and a supermajority of people GMing the playtest -- are experienced roleplayers. I'd like to see the playtest materials be a little more creative.

  2. Yeah, I really liked those "why are we here?" seeds too. In fact, it saved the module for me. It gives some focus to the expedition beyond wandering from one monster Levittown to another. I mashed the "eye of Gruumsh" seed with the lyrics from a Sword song and the group is now combing the Caves for a Fire Lance of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians (as are the other humanoids, something else I liked about that particular seed). With a strong focus like that, the repetetiveness of the caves shouldn't be too much of a problem, and once they find their artifact that will be that--there's no impetus to "cler the dungeons," thank god.

    1. I like the idea of setting the PCs up as competitors with the cave denizens. Maybe they'll kill them, maybe they'll work with them, maybe they'll set themselves up as kingmakers...

      If they go for negotiation rather than murder, how will you handle XP?

    2. You know, that's an interesting point, because if I'm remembering correctly there aren't any guidelines for dispensing XP. So I guess I'm free to go the "story XP' route, where I'd award some equivalent amount of points for negotiating or otherwise neutralizing a threat as I would for mass slaughter.

    3. That's my plan. There's a more-than-fair chance that my players won't want to kill anyone who isn't already trying to kill them. Since my playtest group includes my children, I encourage this attitude...