So I Was Talking To Doug...
A Surprise Stretch Goal
So I was talking to Doug. (Doug Kovacs, that is.) He had this really cool idea for illustrating the endsheets on How To Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck. "And what if the image had a color tint, too?"
So here's your Surprise Stretch Goal for the project, folks: HTWAMTDS will be printed with illustrated endsheets, with brand new art rendered by none other than Doug Kovacs! The sketch I've seen is great and really conveys a sense of "fantastic adventure" - while not being "just another fantasy scene." (Not that anything Doug draws ever looks like that.) This is going to be one great-looking book!
And now, more about our favorite adventures!
The Caverns of Thracia
By Jon Hershberger
Much has been written over the years about Jennell Jaquays' seminal fantasy adventure, The Caverns of Thracia, originally published in 1979 by the Judges Guild for the original Dungeon & Dragons game. This site-based adventure provides four main levels and several sub-levels, three primary factions of tribal non-humans, and numerous set-piece encounters that will be remembered and recounted by players for years. The Caverns of Thracia was one of the very first published adventures I bought as a young gamer, and remains to this day one of my favorite fantasy adventures. I have used Caverns of Thracia in my ongoing home campaign and for convention games off and on over the last ten years.
Jaquays used teleporters, secret doors, one-way doors, trap doors, rooms with difficult-to-find entry points, underground waterways, and variable room and level elevations, along with the seemingly natural crevasses and cavernous chambers, to create a cavern complex that is both difficult to understand conceptually and spatially, and very challenging to map.
Two design aspects that Jaquays used to great effect in Caverns of Thracia were the use of sublevels and the use of verticality within the dungeon complex.
Sublevel 2A - The Crypts of Ancient Thracia, with its Frost Vault, the Hall of Ancient Statuary, the Guardian of Singular Combat, and the Audience Chamber of the Stone King, provided for exceptional gaming experiences for my home group. The sublevel confounded their sense of direction and spatial orientation. Intra-level stairs, split-level chambers, and animating statuary all worked together to keep the characters on edge. The complex encounters with the Chamber of Skeletons and the animating (and out-of-phase) stone gargoyle guardians almost ended in a total party wipe!
The vertical shaft, running from the chamber behind the Hall of the Sphinx (on Level 2), to Sublevel 2B - Temple of Athena and the hidden stronghold room nearby, was a prime example of Jaquays' use of vertical passageways to keep players guessing what they were missing. Likewise, the hidden air shaft that runs between the chamber near the gnoll outpost on Level Two and the Frost Vault on Sublevel 2A eluded my players for a long time.
Jaquays' Caverns of Thracia doesn't have sublevels hanging off of all the levels or in all directions. Rather, it's the selected use of all of these dungeon elements, working together and in harmony with one another, that makes Caverns of Thracia one of the classic dungeon adventures from the heydays of the hobby.
I am once again using Caverns of Thracia for my convention games this year, taking characters down into the Crypt levels and deeper, into the Sanctuary of The Sun & Moon and the realm of the Minotaur King.
Some of these same adventure design elements are used in today's DCC RPG adventures. Harley Stroh's Sailors on a Starless Sea is one such adventure, itself featuring a couple of one-room sublevels and a fair degree of verticality where the keep's hidden stairs lead down toward the Starless Sea. Also, with the addition of the supplemental adventure, The Summoning Chamber, the module introduces an all-new adventure area that employs a vertical shaft and a couple of stairways that lead down into darkness....