Monday, December 23, 2013

Border Wardens: A Balance of Monstrous Intentions

A border-based campaign really starts with some thought on the dangers that the PCs will face, and the mysteries that they'll encounter and unravel.

The Caves of Chaos
by Michael Kormarck (2005)
The first thing that really triggers in my mind as an influence is B2 - The Keep on the Borderland's main source of monsters: the Caves of Chaos!

You have a cave network teeming with non-human monsters, some with uneasy alliances, others at careful detente with one another. To get away from the 'monster killing zoo' feel that might mar some campaigns, some thought should be given to the rationale for these creatures -- and how the cave network might be refreshed for future returns.

Option 1: the Chokepoint

A more *ahem* mundane approach would be to have the Caves of Chaos to be the part of a natural funnel, a bottlenneck, that the lands of Chaos feed into. This has been beneficial to the empire of humanity and demi-humanity, because any one of these monstrous hordes might threaten its civilization -- and may yet do so in the future.

Possible Adventure Hooks

  1. Testing the balance -- the PCs are sent into the Caves of Chaos to investigate the balance of power. What are the factions, how are they allied or opposed? In the process, they may get in over the heads, forcing a confrontation and leading into the next hook...
  2. Upsetting the balance -- the PCs kill an important monster leader, decimate the numbers of a particular faction, or steal a powerful magical item that may have kept one or more of the vanguards of the monstrous hordes in check, and now they have to fight against the forces of a growing power...
  3. Resetting the balance -- the PCs must find a way to weaken the dominant force through assassination, or aiding another monstrous faction, or to shut down the path to the lands of that monstrous race to bring the region back into a delicate state of balance
A future Border Wardens post will be a close reading of B2's material to see how it might flesh out this particular aspect of the setting. But for now, this will be the broad strokes treatment of the monsters of the Caves of Chaos.

Other Ideas
  • loot from different caves (stolen, taken, or found) may provide a hint about future events in the Caves of Chaos, or perhaps turn out to be a powerful McGuffin;
  • rumors from the various monsters of the networks may reveal a hidden secret about the Caves' history
  • the PCs are not the first adventurers and explorers in this region -- perhaps the last resting place of a former hero may be hidden deep in the cave network.


  1. I'm running B2 right now, and I think it can best be understood in terms of the Holmesian 5-point alignment system.

    In other words, the LE types (goblinoids) were the original architects of the Caves. The CE types (Shrine and orc tribes) invaded in an attempt to take over the Caves, but an unsteady stalemate resulted.

    The Minotaur predates the others, and the Owlbear keeps these nocturnal creatures holed up in their lairs rather than battling it out. That's the situation when the PCs arrive.

    As you suggest, my party upset the balance by defeating the goblins/hobgoblins first. These caves were repopulated by orcs, and the Shrine is now on the ascendancy.

  2. paleologos, wow that's an astute analysis -- will certainly color my thoughts on progressing with the campaign beyond this initial adventuring area...

    ... are these the only goblins?
    ... where did the orcs come from?
    ... and what organization does the shrine therefore represent, and how long have they been here?


That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.