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Caves of Chaos
Joining the Party
Tracy Hurley

F or many gamers, Keep on the Borderlands (and its Caves of Chaos) represents the quintessential beginner D&D module. Given its inclusion in the D&D Next playtest, it's no surprise that the community is talking about it extensively and already creating content for it. Here are some sources of inspiration and advice for this adventure.

Adding Characters and Relationships

A number of groups are running Caves of Chaos multiple times. If you want to add some story variety to your sessions, Mike Shea of created some tools to help, everything from lists of primary locations in the keep, sample quests, and NPCs to a random table of Fiasco-style relationships to add connections between party members.

Describing the Environment

Getting players engaged and immersed in the world of their characters can be challenging. One common DM trick is to appeal to multiple senses, describing not only what the character would see but the sounds, smells, and tactile impressions of the world. The amount of detail needs to be balanced against overwhelming the players with too much information and notes that are too long for the DM to quickly read. Thinking of each area as a set can help manage information.

Into the Unknown

The recent book, Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook, has many tips for DMs and players alike. For instance, the advice for handling special rewards, such as polymorph and wish scrolls, are just as handy in D&D Next. Adding dungeon companions like Meepo, theme-based hooks, and a diversity of plot points can all help more fully immerse the players within the caves.

Handling the Medusa

There's been quite a bit of discussion about creatures such as the medusa and in particular the return of mechanics that use saving throws against an immediate effect. As I point out in the DM versus the Medusa, there are many ways to look at these types of effects, and how they should be handled varies by table. An important thing to keep in mind is that these types of mechanics tend to require either a greater degree of trust or an agreement to a form of play where characters can die, not through bad choices, but through bad die rolls or lack of player knowledge.

Playing Online

One of the interesting things I learned through the initial playtest discussions is the number of people who play online. The playtest FAQ was recently updated to allow for some types of online play, including non-public Skype, Google Hangouts, and play-by-post forums. Two recent articles from the community discuss using Google Docs and Google Plus as online gaming options.

What advice do you think would come in handy for running the Caves of Chaos?

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About the Author

Tracy Hurley is a D&D blogger, podcaster, and freelance game designer. On any given night, there is a 50% chance you will find her on Twitter as @SarahDarkmagic, a 10% chance you'll find her on the Tome Show, 4Geeks4e, or the DM Round Table, a 25% chance she's home plotting world domination with her husband, and a 15% chance she's planning a sneak attack. She is rarely surprised, never flat-footed, and uses Encounter powers as At-Wills.

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