As many of you know, the recently released D&D Next playtest packet came packaged with the Caves of Chaos “adventure.” I put the word “Adventure” in quotes there because Caves of Chaos (hereafter referred to as CoC) isn’t really an adventure in the modern sense. Instead it’s a loose sandbox left open for you, the DM, to fill with your own goodies.
I get why WotC included this as the “adventure” in the playtest. It is open and unrestricted which would allow different groups to add their own flair and their own style to the scenario.
However, for those of us that want to playtest this thing, but don’t have a ton of time to figure out what politics and interactions we want the different factions to of the caves to have it would have been nice to have had a bit more structure than the simple hooks at the beginning of CoC.
So to that end I’m going to try to give some more in depth plot structures to the CoC that DM’s can simply drop in. These won’t be full blown adventures, or even delves. What I’m offering here are some simple plot threads that are a bit more structured than the small hooks in the front of the CoC pdf. I’m not going to go into the minutiae of planning the fights that take place, the CoC pdf can handle that pretty well. Instead, I want to give everyone a good story to frame their playtest around.
An adventuring site is only as good as the civilization that is nearby. Without one, where would the characters spend all that gold they sto... I mean obtained?
So the first thing to do is to add a home base for your characters - a place they can limp back to when they get their butts kicked, a place to hawk some stuff they found, and a place to spend some of that coinage they picked up while exploring the CoC.
For this purpose, I will suggest that you either grab a copy of the original B2: Keep on the Boarderlands or you head over to the WotC website (http://www.wizards.com/dnd) and grab the DDI article called “Keep on the Chaos Scar”
Both of these give a description of a small keep that is positioned near a cave riddled ravine, so both of them work very nicely as a starting point for your adventurers. Going forward, I’ll be assuming that we’re using Keep on the Chaos Scar.
Each of the following scenarios will need to introduce the characters and get them to the Keep on the edge of the Caves of Chaos.
- Get the party to the Keep and establish a base of operations
- Introduce the characters to each other (and to each others players)
- Give the PCs some time to interact with friendly NPCs
- Allow the PCs that have interesting Background benefits to utilize them
Start the players off with something similar to the following boxed text:
The cart you have been accompanying sways back and forth as it hits the small bumps and ruts of the dirt road, groaning with each. The sun is beginning to set, and the unmerciful heat of the day is beginning to wane when you and your travelling companions finally reach the small fortification you spotted earlier in the day.
The small fortress has high walls, and a dry moat with a draw bridge. The bridge is currently pulled shut, leaving no entrance. But as you approach a voice from above calls down, “State your business!”
The merchant you have been traveling with whispers something to the drover of the wagon, who answers back in a dusty voice, “Passing ‘froo. Gots us some wares that need passin’ on, and we need us a place to bed down for the night whereas we won’t get stuck or robbed!”
After another second or two the great bridge begins to move, and slowly it grinds open. A small troop of guards comes fanning out of the keep and escorts your group inside.
At this point, have one of the guardsmen take the group of adventurers to the side, and ask them their name, what their business is in the area and collect their weapons.
This makes a great place to introduce the characters in a more “meta-gamey” fashion. Have each player make up what their character looks like, where they’re from, and what their real motivations are in the area.
After this, let them free from the merchant - who might give each of them a small payment for the protection. Consider giving each character 10gp, so they have some cash for spending in town today.
From here the plots splinter off, depending on where you want your characters to go. Most of the players will want to look for the nearest Inn, which is a great (albeit cliche) way to introduce the characters to the plot.
The current lord of the keep, Lord Drysdale, has his head set on creating an empire from this once nearly abandoned keep. As such, he has been hosting dignitaries from the neighboring kingdoms to wine and dine them.
However, recently a caravan that carried one of the foreign dignitaries and his retinue has gone missing. A dire situation for any budding nation to be in, but Lord Drysdale is a resourceful man and he probably could have talked his way out of a few missing noblemen. That is if the missing dignitaries were just noblemen. This particular dignitary was the second son of a neighboring kingdom - but on his way to the keep, his eldest brother died in a tragic accident, which made him into the new (and only) heir of his kingdom!
This dignitary, along with all others, are under Drysdale’s protection while travelling to and from his keep. So now Drysdale faces the potential wrath of an angry nation at the loss of their heir. It probably won’t turn into an immediate war, but it will definitely strain relations between the two entities.
Due to this, Drysdale is trying as hard as he can to find the heir. He has put out an open call for all able and willing men and women to help find this missing prince.
The PC’s might become entangled in this mess by hearing a town crier or perhaps they are approached as they enter town. How they are swept up in this mess is up to you, but this is a great place for some interactions with the locals.
Drysdale's intelligence reports that about 3 days ago, the prince's caravan was waylaid by a band of kobolds and an ogre. They killed all the guards and servants (except one) but their goal seemed to be taking prisoners. Further, it’s common knowledge that the kobolds live in the area known as the Caves of Chaos to the northeast. Drysdale hopes that the abductors do not know exactly who they have nabbed, and wants the prince found as soon as possible.
To this end the characters are hired to rescue the prince, and their prize for success is a knighthood and a small plot of land to call their own within the new kingdom that Drysdale is founding.
From here the players will need to locate the abductors. The characters can either pick caves at random to try and find the prince, or they can attempt to track him from his point of abduction. I will assume the latter.
When they do find and defeat the kobolds located in cave A, they find that the prince is no longer being held by them. He, along with most of the captives, was traded away to the band of goblins (in area D) and the tribe of orcs (Areas B and C) that live in the ravine as payment for their services defending against the Hobgoblins in area H. However the characters are unsure which set of monsters he was traded to. They will have to decide which group to attack next.
In reality, the prince was traded to the orcs though he didn’t stay there long. The orcs offered the whole lot of the captives to the cult of Zehir that has taken root in the caves recently as sacrifices. However, the orc tribes have only recently banded together (after a particularly nasty beating from the nearby group of bugbears and the ogre) and it should be obvious that the tribes are split on the decision to give away the captives. The fact of the matter is that one of the cheiftains of the tribe has been charmed by the cultists. This could make for a decent little non-combat encounter, to try to get the other chief to take over and help rid both tribes of the cults influence.
As for the cult of Zehir, they have placed a hidden agent in the keep - a brother Benwick that is offering healing and care to the needy. Through him, they have learned of the lineage of the prince, and they plan to sacrifice him as a focus for a ritual that will enslave the mind of the prince's father and mother. What they plan to do with that control, however, is up to you...
The treaty as always stood: Send monthly tribute of food, ale, and gold to the caves - followed by a yearly tribute of a hale young sacrifice on the summer equinox, and the keep goes unmolested. Those were the terms set down by the tribes of the Caves with the dwarven brigands that once occupied the keep so many years ago, and to this day they have stood as law in this unforgiving place.
The keepholders have upheld their end of the bargain, but the tribes that dwell in the Caves of Chaos have recently begun attacking holders and travellers as they go to and from the keep. And just last week, a large contingent of Gnolls attacked and razed the surrounding area.
The holders of the keep now live in constant fear. Worse yet, due to the recent attacks the travelling merchants that form the lifeblood of commerce for the keep have stopped coming.
This is when the PC’s arrive, and it should be immediately obvious that something is wrong. Everyone is on alert, and the arrival of a band of adventurers is a big deal.
Soon after their arrival, the PC’s are approached by Lord Drysdale directly. He wants the characters to go to the Caves and find out why the treaty has been broken. Furthermore, he wants the characters to attempt to re-establish the treaty with the leader of the tribes, a medusa named Sitherax. If that is not possible, he wants the characters to find some other way to stop the attacks, and authorizes them to offer up to double the amount of the original treaty if need be. If nothing else, Drysdale would not be upset if the PC’s could simply bring him back information regarding the situation.
Drysdale tells the PC’s that he has sent 2 groups of dignitaries ahead of them to try and open communications with Sitherax, but that neither of them have returned. He fears the worst for them, and that is why he wants to send a group of capable adventurers instead of more diplomats. And of course, if the PC’s could bring back any of those lost dignitaries, it would only be met with additional praise.
The characters are granted a small group of guards as escorts. It might work best if these extras stay behind and secure a campsite outside the caves - a place nearby that the PCs can run to if they need to rest. But these guards are not enough to repel a full tribes attack should it come to that!
The truth of the matter is that Sitherax has been usurped by an evil cleric named Von Urich, that has recently moved into the area. He is a powerful man that worships an even more powerful god. He, like the medusa before him, rules the tribes through fear but , unlike the medusa, has little interest in goods or gold.
Von Urich and his acolytes seek to create an evil artifact of great power - a sphere of annihilation. But to do so, they must enact a ritual to their profane deity that requires the utter annihilation of a large amount of victims. And over the course of the last few months, Von Urich has been strangulating the keep of all hope by commanding the tribes to attack all those that would travel to and from the keep, and now his ritual is almost ready.
The new moon is about to rise, and when it does Von Urich will complete his ritual by sacrificing the once powerful medusa. The ritual, fueled by the despair of the inhabitants of the keep, will consume all of the people living within the keeps walls. First during the first stage of the ritual the keepholders will begin to turn on each other, despair turning to anger. That is when the tribes will attack - and the resulting slaughter will be complete. At its culmination, the ritual will consume the death, anger and despair of the holders, as well as the bloodlust, victory and lives of the tribes members to form the sphere.
The PC’s don’t know it yet, but it is up to them to stop this from happening...