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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Caves of Chaos revealed

Annotated scan of the cover image of B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. Art by Jim Roslof.

I've looked at the cover of B2 countless times. It was the first module I owned. But I don't recall ever noticing until yesterday that you can see at least two of the Caves of Chaos in the background of the cover painting (circles marked B and C). My eyes have always focused on the combat in the foreground, which (without thinking about it too much) I assumed was a random wilderness encounter with hobgoblins (the Monster Manual describes them as having bright red-orange faces and blue noses). I never really noticed those dark spots in the background. But now they look to me like they must be cave openings in the distance, and thus the combat is taking place right in the valley of the Caves of Chaos, which completely makes sense as an artistic choice for Jim Roslof's composition.

So which caves are they? The cave on the left is higher than the other as if they are on different contour lines as shown on the map. But since the hill overall seems to be sloping down to the left I would assume we are facing south. If so, the high hills in the distance would be south across the river (perhaps the peaks where the bandit camp is located). Caves J and K would roughly fit the pattern except the map shows them hidden in the trees. Caves D and E are to the left of Cave F (the hobgoblin cave), but are lower. So they are not easily placed.

Edit: I revised the annotated scan to show the cave locations suggested by paleologos. 
A is the Kobold Lair (partially obscured), B and C are the two Orc Lairs, and G is the Shunned Cavern, hidden behind a stand of trees.


  1. I can't recall if I've noticed these before. If so I'd forgotten. Nicely spotted.

  2. brilliant!
    never notice that either O_____O

  3. Nice observations!

    A few more - I'd always assumed that the PCs were fighting hobgoblins from their lair on the south wall of the canyon, and that we are seeing cave mouths on the north wall (perhaps the kobolds lair to the right, and one of the orc lairs to the left).

    In other words, we're facing north. If you look closely at the hill in the upper left corner, it appears to have been painted over the bluish hill to the right of it, as though Roslof brushed in a hill in order to "close" the canyon as an afterthought, in order to more accurately depict a battle in the area depicted on the map.

    Incidentally, I have always loved that tree in the right foreground. The lavender blossoms establish the season as the spring, and the exposed roots almost look as though they are attempting to ensnare the elven archer's right leg...

  4. I see what you are saying & agree. The sloping to the left is just the grade down inside the valley, rather than the end. So as you note the caves that best fit are C: Orcs (left) and A: Kobolds (right).

    That tree is great. The approach to the Caves mentions the "thick, twisted tree trunks, unnaturally misshapen limbs, writhing roots". I wonder if it's modeled on a particular real-world tree?

  5. I wonder if it's modeled on a particular real-world tree?

    How about a Jacaranda? They don't have writhing roots but then this one does indeed look like it's purposely making a grab for the elf. Perhaps it's a Walking Jacaranda? :-)

  6. Actually, comparing Roslof's illustration to a map of the Caves, it looks as though the two lairs depicted are at the same level and approximate distance apart as the orc caves (C and B) while the kobold lair would be obscured by the two combatants with clashing shields.

    He even seems to depict the two copses of trees at the far end of the ravine, the more distant of which covers the entrance to cave G (shunned cavern)...

  7. @David. Could be! They've got the purple flowers. But I wonder if there's anything native to the Wisconsin/Lake Geneva area that Roslof might've used as a model? Though an exotic could always be planted there.

    The B2 map has a Tamarack Stand; I believe the tamarack (american larch) grows in Wisconsin. They are distinguished by losing their needles in winter unlike most conifers.

  8. @paleologos. I like it! I've updated the picture above to reflect your suggestions.

    Perhaps B1 lies in the high blue hills in the background to north...

  9. How did I miss this post!?! Brilliant! Thank you for sharing!

  10. This is an awesome find, Zenopus! As many times as I have run this adventure, I just assumed the cave entrances were random. I think that is because there are mountains above the rim instead of a forest, so I didn't place it directly at the Caves of Chaos.

    I will suggest that the tree could be a Flowering Dogwood. They are fairly misshapen, about that size, and have purplish flowers in the Spring.