Saturday, 16 February 2013

Seven Experimental Caves

Its very hard to find the correct balance between too little information and too much. 

The first lines are to go in the table and provide and instant idea the DM can improvise with. The rest is to to somewhere else and be remembered or looked up very quickly when necessary.

I could add a lot more descriptive crap to each of these but it would make them weigh more in the head and harder to use so I don't know.

Names are chosen as a combination of instantly descriptive, colourful and re-memorable. You are not meant to use them talking to the players. There is only one Fountain of Fontestorbe but a hundred caves that do that thing.


Stepped stone pools and streams. Fordable. Descending.

A giant staircase. 3d4 pools. You can jump. 4 to 6 vertical feet. Swim/wade across. Anyone fighting can grapple and throw themselves down into the next pool as a free action, SO LONG AS THEY TAKE THE OTHER GUY WITH THEM.


Giant china plates with razor sides. Splayed like cards.

3d6 shallow pools rimmed by fragile, beautiful, razor sharp flowstone. Water knee high. Combat fumbles take chunks from the flowstone rims and crack them like crockery. Broken pools overflow in sequence.


Fallen stone or shattered faults. Cracked, crooked and flooded hip-width paths.

A nightmare of irregular cracked rocks, waist-high full of water. Imagine a bucket of smashed slates, piled. An ant to navigate them. You are the ant. The path-walls grow face-close. You turn side-on. Save against paralysis or freeze.


A plane of turquoise water, still and flat as glass.

Knee high, hip high, chest high, neck high, then out. (Do not tell players the depth.) The sky-coloured water makes you homesick and sad (the only blue thing you'll see.)


Roaring abyssal falls of unknowable depth.

A waterfall plunging beyond the lanterns rays. No way to know the depth before you climb. The sound drowns speech, no warning of sound. Ask who the players are looking at.


Clear, deep water. Full of house-sized marbles.

You can wade across this pool walking on the surface of the house-sized hyper-oolites that rest in it. They are perfect spheres with the tops almost breaching the surface. Draw circles and ask players where they are. Leap/swim from sphere to sphere.


Smooth valved chamber, wet and regularly refills.

Flowing and curved like the inside of a brass wind instrument. Many tiny exits. Puddles and pools. Living fish flap. Will refill, violently and unstoppably every d30 minutes, forever.


  1. Very evocative, and quite a few fresh ideas for caverns. The research is really showing. The mention of sound and the sense of water pressing are useful too, in that senses other than the visual are easily overlooked, especially when there's a lot going on. It could be good for immersion if more descriptions reminded the GM of opportunities to bring other senses in, but lightly, as you've done here.

    1. Other senses are really important underground as if, and when, the lights go out, they will be all the players have to go on.

  2. Excellent introductory shorthand passages. I assume the finished product will have plenty of visual material to back up these descriptions because my immediate reaction is to want to see these things. I am getting the sense of the absolute hostility and unfamiliarity in the environment. It's claustrophobic and vertiginous and fraught with hidden dangers.

    I can imagine the chaos and trauma of a party encountering one of your abominable things in some of these environments - of fleeing pyroclastic ghouls down flowstone cascades. This setting should be able to to evoke some fairly primitive fear.

    1. Thanks Tom. I ahve not idea if I will be doing illustrations at all. I can't draw to save my life. My original plan was to make the thing so that it could stand without any pictures at all, then, if anyone wants to do some then we can just go for quality and a powerful imagnative charge rather than having lots of less interesting pictures.

    2. OK, I understand. I've been looking at the Subterranean design blog to better picture this stuff. Your descriptive writing is easily good enough to evoke the strangeness of these kinds of spaces. I find it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking of the cave in terms of human architecture when it is actually just weird and funky and utterly inhuman.