Friday, June 22, 2012

The Lost City on the Borderlands

The Caves of Chaos Theory

When The Keep on the Borderlands first came onto the scene in the spring of 1978, The Middlebury Fighters Guild was a "band of brave fighters sworn to protect the lands of An-kar". Then, like a murder of crows that would steal your eyes, we'd trek into the dark forest, mountain ridges, and   underground caves, shamelessly slaying the monster inhabitants and taking their treasures (which, in our minds, was rightfully ours, because the monsters probably stole the treasures from the elves, drawves, and humans in the first place). Borderland was a strange experience for our group, because we'd all read it beforehand. Everybody owned it. Kids were reading it in the basement, on the back porch, or at school. The gang was looking forward to the existential nightmare that was The Caves of Chaos.

There was only one problem: Everybody knew everything ahead of time.

Yes, it's a classic module, and it's a serious effort to hook new players, but around my early gaming table, everyone (from the newbie ten year olds to the jaded high schoolers) had read the thing from cover to cover, and every time we tried to play it, somebody would start an argument with the phrase "that's not in this module." So, we never "played it". We'd cut out sections of the town and re-designed the caves to fake out the players. 

The result? More arguments. So, after our 30th encounter with the town's NPCs, the Middlebury Fighter's Guild moved to Paul Scheckley's* house (part time DM and self appointed game theorist) and began playing a module that none of us had read, The Lost City. He had connected one of the Caves of Chaos to a buried pyramid, and we were totally blown away by the Underground City Map. 

We re-named the Cynidiceans to Cyclopedians, because the word looked like Encyclopedia (and we had some Encyclopedia Brown fans, including me, in our group). Paul was also angling for a historical tie in: It seemed reasonable that Zorgon, having a single eye, would have created a race of cyclops in the past, who later rose up aganist him. The dream-entranced humans had a poor translation of the word, and were working under a misconception about Zorgon (thinking that he's a god). Suffice to say, we didn't get very far the first time out of the gate (those of us that survived the stirges, ended up getting stung to death by giant bees in the treasure room).

More importantly, all of the NPC interactions in The Lost City actually paid off. After we joined (disguised ourselves to appear as) the Brotherhood of Gorm, our expedition made it further into the adventure. However, I suspect that there was some DM dice fudging because there were a lot of early PC deaths in this module. Plus, this module was famous in our group for the number of monsters we encountered for the first time (since we 'officially' skipped out on Borderlands). This was our first time run in with: a banshee, the doppleganger (trying to take over a party member), were-rats, a gelatinous cube, some gargoyles and owl bears. Disguised as Cynidiceans, our thieves caused a commotion in the gambling chamber, while the rest of the team went after Darius, the evil cleric of the adventure. We ended up killing him with Lord Alexander's magic sword, but that was after losing three of our six guys to hobgoblin warriors...Some quotes from my notes are : "Lost our minds in The Lost City", which refers to "underground- setting- fatigue", commonly called "Undergrunnd" ), and " Burn...Burn it all down..." is a reference to when a group of cult members caught on fire and started running around and setting other cult members on fire...Then they ran around and set the monsters on fire, and... Presto! Chaos Theory!  

These days (well, back then too) players / characters wouldn't move from game to game, but we'd already made (and played) several adventures dealing with a "monster infestation" (most likely influenced by Borderlands ). Plus, The Lost City included a list of lower levels, ending with a HP Lovecraft inspired monster on the 15th level chamber, named Zorgon. We never made it beyond the seventh level of The Lowers Levels, but I'm sure Paul worked in some of those monsters into other games. Then we began converging modules, (with a cave leading into the Isle of Dread adventure, and then into my version of In Search of the Unkown...but, that is another story).

(* His name has been changed, because I owe him money, and we had a 'falling-out' of sorts, so I don't want him more ticked off at me than he already is...)     

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