Friday, May 14, 2010

Humanoid Combatants in the Caves of Chaos

This is probably obvious to any of you who've played or DMed Keep on the Borderlands a lot, but I wanted to see how many humanoids are in the Caves of Chaos and what types. So here is a crude treemap of the number of combatants (including females where they fight and those badass baby bugbears):

As you would expect, there is a general trend of fewer combatants the tougher they are, but hobgoblins are sort of an anomaly. And here is the map of the caves color coded by humanoid type. You can see higher up and farther into the ravine means more danger for the party:

As far as the factions go, it is almost a cross-ravine war going on; goblins and hobgoblins versus orcs. Except the gnolls sometimes ally with the orcs. The ogre generally fights for the goblins but will go to the highest bidder. Kobolds try to stay out of the line of fire. Bugbears pick off any stragglers. And the simulationist in me wonders what the hell they all eat.


  1. Heh - they eat each other...

    Good analysis. Still have the wild cards, too - the Minotaur, the Medusa, the undead and the evil priest... It gets downright chaotic there :)

  2. Considering the much vaunted Gygaxian-naturalism, the Caves of Chaos always seemed far from it. Esp. odd since you would think that beginners would be encouraged to think along these lines from the get-go.

  3. the simulationist in me wonders what the hell they all eat.


    There's an under-explored aspect of life in the D&D world: the Hobbesian (but wildly interesting) life of a pizza delivery boy on the Borderlands.

    Useful analysis btw. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    I think B2 is interesting as far as naturalism goes because it's really a great abstracted adventure locale: it shows a new DM and players how a dungeon can work with player choice but with a clearly defined danger gradient. It works well with multiple forays and allows for some creative negotiation, and intelligent opposition when the factions work against you. It also gives you a preview of all the bugaboos you can fight in D&D and offers a place players can work up several levels as they climb through opponents. As an abstracted adventure gaming locale it seems perfect.

    The price you pay is having players wonder how this ravine got crammed full of 6 different tribes hostile to each other. But as with D&D's combat system I think sometimes the benefits from abstraction outweigh the potential breaking of suspension of disbelief. But I'm sure, as with saving throws earlier, where each of us falls on the continuum of comfort as far as abstraction differs.

    @Tim: Thanks! I set out just trying to make it clear to myself. But after finishing I was thinking that their might be ways adventure map maker could make the maps more useful for DMs.

  5. I'm pretty sure B2 explains the caves are a "source of chaotic energy/malice/whatever/evil" and that attracts the various humanoids to the area.

    You can alternatively assume they are encouraged by the temple to settle and to fight. Thus providing fresh supplies of corpses to animate as well as a "speed bump" for any would be invaders. Sort of like how USSR set up the Warsaw Pact.

    I've never had a problem rationalizing anything ;)

    One thing I liked about Hackmaster's B2 is that they added latrines and the like to the various lairs.

  6. Seeing as how this is a wilderness instead deep in a dungeon, I don't see why the humanoids can't hunt and attack travellers.

  7. In B2-9, Search for the Unknown, they suggested that the different tribes were being gathered together by the Temple for an attack on the Keep. That suggests some combination of a) distribution of supplies by the clerics and b) local hunting and foraging with the intent of launching the attack prior to the point where supply shortages drive them to greater infighting, cannibalism and dispersion.

  8. The Keep is actually quite large. It is bigger than Harlech Castle! It should likely have a garrison of easily 3x the actual listed garrison (68 I believe if someone's TO&E I saw was right).

    This creates a situation where a DM should understand why there aren't more soldiers, whether the Castellan can truly afford to keep the place up, etc. The shortage would make the PCs important assets if they are willing to work pro bono (for loot vs. a paycheck0. They could be great scouts, infiltrators, etc even if straight out fights were a bad idea.

    As to the humanoids, I always assumed a coordinating central force. Clerics, evil chaos magic, you name it.

    The Keep also needs a bunch of farms to support the population (even with the wimpy garrison). That means patrols (even if you assume local manors with knights and retinues to help or farmer militia). Maybe mortality on those patrols helps keep the garrison size down despite recruiting.

    Also, there is the possibility that the higher level liege lord can't support this holding due to other factors (reduction in resources, more fronts to deal with, whatever). That leaves the Castellan in pickle.

    Something people forget when looking at balance: The stated assumption is a party of SIX to NINE players with a handful (or more) of men at arms. That's a huge party by the standards of most people's gaming groups and by modern design standards (for successor versions of D&D which target 4 and often no hirelings).

    The Keep has a lot to explain and rationalize and flesh out, but that's a great part of making the keep part of your world. It's open enough you can do that. For one, I plan to multiply the outdoor map size by about 3 to 5, redraw it, and thus make the Caves a reasonable distance from the keep (versus just over the next hill). That's one modification, but that's part of the fun.

    There's a great and abiding skeleton here because the PCs can play the situation so many ways, because they have a real chance to play a key role in the area (rather than just mercenary murder hobos) and if they can help the Castellan stabilize and expand the area, they can have the pride of having expanded civilization and having done great deeds. And all of that by L6 likely (I don't see abandoning a fully worked up area by L4....).