The Caverns of Thracia (1979)

The Caverns of Thracia (1979) is another classic Jennell Jaquays adventure for Judges Guild. Caverns goes for an ancient Greek vibe with players discovering the lost city of Thracia. The city is long gone but, well, the title kind of gives it away that there is something going on underneath the surface. The Thracians worshiped a personification of death, so the upper reaches are their ritual spaces and tombs. Beneath that are the caves, ruled by the Minotaur King and his beast man, all former slaves of the Thracians. The caverns are only four levels, but lots of sub-levels and paths between them add to the intricacy. It’s less tricksy than Dark Tower, but there are still plenty of surprises, like an artificially lit forest deep underground and a spirit of death that stalks one area, offering release to the wounded it encounters. There are also some living statues, because of course, but in general there is an inner logic here that feels a bit more plausible than Dark Tower, which leans into the gonzo vibes. There are less factions here (unfortunately making things more hacky slashy) but Caverns does have is a cool matrix of random encounter tables that moves inhabitants around the cave system for specific reasons. This bustle gives it a real lived in feeling.

The Caverns of Thracia is one of the key early RPG adventures that inspired the OSR; this sort of non-linear environment is catnip for those folks. Most of the art is also by Jaquays, but there are some early illustrations by future Palladium founder Kevin Siembieda, which is cool! I really love how the weird Judges Guild spot color is used to great effect in depicting the manifestation of death.

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