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Merric Blackman
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Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
The final module in the “Special” series, S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, was based on a tournament adventure run at the 1976 Wintercon V tournament. Gary Gygax significantly revised the module before its publication, as the “new” monsters in 1976 had been adopted into the canon of AD&D; and thus new monsters were required to maintain the freshness of the adventure. He also added a wilderness section, as well as changing a few details about the plotline. The resulting adventure is regarded as a classic of AD&D, but I don’t think it’s worn as well as some others.

One of the major problems with the adventure actually comes from those new monsters and their reason for inclusion: they were there to challenge the players with foes they’d never seen before. As the monsters of The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth were reprinted in Monster Manual II, and some have become extremely prominent parts of the D&D canon, such as the bodak and the behir, the adventure reads more as a collection of powerful monsters gathered together in a haphazard fashion rather than the test of ingenuity and innovation that it once was.

However, even with parts of the Lost Caverns somewhat dated, there’s still things to like. The adventure’s background relates that, nearly a century ago, the Arch-mage Iggwilv conquered the lands around her abode (near the country of Perrenland in the World of Greyhawk). When she fell, her slaves looted her abode, but a secret hiding place lay undiscovered. This hiding place holds the powerful artifact, Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn. Recent investigations have revealed the general location of her hidden lair, and parties from Ket, Perrenland and Iuz have been sent to discover the lair; the party is assumed to be sponsored by the Margrave of Bissel, who is worried about the fate of his realm if the other powers got there first.

The construction of the wilderness section is unusual, as there are very few set encounters. Instead, the DM chooses or rolls for an encounter when marked locations on the map are reached; there are twenty sample encounters listed. The players are provided with an incomplete map of the mountain passes of the area where the Caverns should be, but they’ll soon find that there are additional passes and trails to explore. Actually finding the Caverns might not take that long - or it might take a long time, depending on how the party proceeds.

One aspect to the wilderness section that I appreciate is the inclusion of Kettite and Perrenland patrols - alas, no party from Iuz is included - as this really helps ground the adventure in the World of Greyhawk.

Two encounter areas in the adventure are fixed: Gnome Vale, which is likely to provide a home base for the players (as well as providing an entrance to the companion module of WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun), and The Craggy Dells, which hold a group of renegades trying to capture hippogriffs.

The caverns themselves are divided into two levels, the Lesser and Greater Caverns, which were rounds one and two of the original tournament. Gygax uses a lot of “boxed text” in this adventure, unlike most of his previous adventures. The Lesser Caverns were made up of almost entirely combat encounters in the original tournament module, but there are a few role-playing encounters in this revised adventure, as well as a few interesting tricks to entertain the party. The chief challenge in this level is the underground river that must be navigated, although a magical boat that can be found will make this possible.

The Greater Caverns are more of a challenge, with far more in the way of unusual encounters. The ultimate goal of the party, the central chamber, requires all six of its doors to be opened before it can be entered - requiring the group to have found each of the doors before they enter it, and the group is teleported around the dungeon each time they open a door, causing some disorientation and interesting possibilities for the DM.

Perhaps the most unusual - and dangerous - place in the Greater Caverns is the Glowing Grotto, which transports the members of group to one of four alternate dimensions - and not all of the group to the same one! This could quite easily become a deadly trap for the group, and needs the DM to approach it with care.

The final encounter area of the adventure is the Inner Sphere, where Iggwilv’s daughter (now a vampire) rests. As a spherical chamber with the entrances along the centre, it is something of a challenging environment for players and the DM. Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn hangs within the Sphere, and it is a nicely-judged artefact, with good abilities balanced by interesting drawbacks.

The adventure also contains a second booklet, which acts as a supplement for the AD&D game, containing a large number of new monsters (which would be reprinted in Monster Manual II), with a few unique demons included, and a few new magical items and spells. The Lanthorn gets over a page describing it, whilst the Demonicon of Iggwilv makes its first appearance here, with a number of new spells useful against outer-planar monsters, as well as a discussion of the magical diagrams used for protection when summoning demons, devils and elementals.

All in all, there’s a lot of combat in The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. It really shows its age: first written in 1976, where dungeon-crawling was the dominant form of D&D play, and story an afterthought. Gary Gygax, in his preparation for this form of the adventure, added more non-combat material, but it’s still mostly a feast of new monsters to fight. It contains some rather important lore for the Greyhawk campaign setting, and should be quite a challenge for any group who braves the caverns. Ultimately, I feel that the adventure is less than the sum of its parts; important more for what it added to the game rather than for the adventure itself.
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Cracky McCracken
United States
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Great review as always Merric.

S4 is probably my favorite of the old Gygax modules. As the DM, it was a blast to throw all these new monsters at a party of experienced players. The second booklet was a welcome addition as well, even if it was eventually eclipsed by the actual gamebooks. S4 set the bar up a little higher...
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Michael Lavoie
United States
New Hampshire
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I remember this one fondly. I never actually ran it, but all those tasty new monsters were quite a boon to my campaign at a time when I had a couple of players who had pretty much memorized the Monster Manual (AD&D 1e). Reading your most excellent review brings back some great memories. Thanks!
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