This is Part 15 of my Thursdays in Thracia B/X Dungeons & Dragons Campaign, an actual play of Jennell Jaquays’ The Caverns of Thracia. For more context, start from Part 0.
Continued from Part 14, in which we learned the flexibility of Glibble’s Floating Disc.
Descending into the darkness, the party found themselves on a wide shelf with two stone gargoyles, overlooking a square room. The walls of the room below were lined with skeletons whose eyes glowed an eerie, pulsating orange (40A, above). Stellaa’s Detect Magic spell was still active, and it alerted her to the presence of an illusion. The wall behind the gargoyles was not a wall at all, and was in fact an opening into a large chamber (c).
At the west end of the chamber hung large curtains, and behind them a row of bars, and behind those, a throne. The party decided to investigate the other doors first. The door to the north was barred with wood, and its lock filled with wax and stamped with a seal. Clearly something dangerous lay beyond.
They recognized four patterns on the wall to the south, which had previously indicated the presence of secret doors. They opened and entered the first (h). Once two of their number were inside, an eerie voice sounded from the darkness, and the door began to close — the room was haunted!
Luckily, Filgrum Thickwobble, a fighter of incredible strength (18 Strength) was able to push back against the supernaturally animated door and get himself and his companion to safety. They tried the next door, behind which was a small chest, with a transparent lid. Suspended inside the lid was a beautifully crafted sword.
As the party poked and prodded at the chest, two strange little creatures emerged from the shadows, with bulbous heads and gray, muscular bodies. They attacked!
The party fought valiantly, slaying the creatures, but sadly Stellaa the cleric fell to a mighty blow, her body flung to the floor of the larger room outside. With little time to mourn, her companions looted the chest, finding a small fortune in gems and coins, as well as a secret compartment containing unknown potions. They detached the transparent lid, and decided to return to the surface where they could figure out how to remove the sword.
I could probably change the heading for this section to “complaining about module layout” for all I’ve been doing it in the last few posts. The Caverns of Thracia is gorgeous in its interconnectedness. It is really impressive and creates this strong feeling of exploration and discovery. But oh boy is it convoluted to run. Let’s look at two bits of map:
Map 1 is a small selection of the big map of Level 2 of the dungeon. Map 2 is labelled “Room Complex 40A-I.” Now when you look at them side by side, it is almost apparent that the stairs from 32, by the spider web in Map 1, go down to B, by the gargoyles in map 2. Almost. What isn’t apparent is that the big room, 40C in map 2, is actually directly above 41A, and that the gargoyle shelf with the opening to 40C, sits above another opening from which stairs descend to 41A. 41A has its own connections which link to other areas. If you find yourself going “…wait what?” then you’ve got an idea of how confusing it can be to prep and run this dungeon. What’s more, Map 2, of room complex 40 A-I, is separated from Map 1 by a full ten pages of textual room descriptions and encounters in the module itself. No where, at least as far as I have found, is the connection between 32 (Map 1) and 40B (Map 2) described. You just have to kind of line things up mentally and make some good notes.
Long story short, I missed a whole interesting encounter. There is supposed to be this powerful guardian at 40B that challenges a PC to single combat to allow passage to the shelf beyond. It’s cool and flavorful, and definitely would have resulted in the death of one of my low-level PC’s. That room just doesn’t exist in our version of Thracia now. While flipping through my print-out and trying to keep things moving in play, I straight-up missed it.
I missed other stuff too. The chest with the transparent top is supposed to be both immobile and trapped, but that information comes at the end of the whole room description, after the contents of the chest are described. The two monsters in the room are doppelgängers, but instead of having them appear as helpless people or some other interesting and dangerous situation, I tripped up thinking on my feet and just had them attack. It’s this kind of stuff that our players never notice, but that keeps DM’s up at night. Everyone had a great time, the players have no idea what they are missing, but there is that little voice that says my game could have been better. On the one hand, it’s good to be aware of how you can improve your game. On the other hand, and I’ve written about this before, cognitive load is a real thing. Thracia is a module that pushes the boundaries of my cognitive load. I’m straight up exhausted at the end of every session trying to keep this stuff straight.
But there is hope! Michael Bacon, who writes over at Buildings are People is leading a heroic, crowdsourced effort to create a more legible, terse key for the rooms in The Caverns of Thracia. I’ve volunteered to write a few rooms myself. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, please check it out.