On a recent trip I found myself back at Mammoth Caves, Kentucky for a quick driving break. I didn’t make it down into any of the caves this time, but got to walk around and peer into the caves while I walked the trails in the park. The last time I was there, I was inspired to do an article on how awesome caves were. This time is no different and I’ve got an itch to throw some of my players back in a cave (I mean… their characters…), but I had a different twist on the idea.
(Warning, This is a big article with lots of pictures.)
What do you need to make your game shine?
Whenever I sit down to plan out a game around a certain theme, the plot and ideas come easy. What it takes me a while to find are the fun little resources that help me really grab the players and engage them. Pictures of unique elements, some fun and unique monsters, good noise effects, etc. The unnecessary elements that you don’t really need, but the ones that can help increase your enjoyment. The things that fall to the wayside while I do more important things that are necessary for the core game. So, I thought, why not compile and link to a bunch of resources that work for a theme? I present you the first Johnny’s Fifty. Here are fifty resources that I found online for you to make use of when running a cave themed game. Use them as morgue files, references, illustrations of various elements in your game, etc.Â Wherever possible, I’ve tried to find resources that are freely available. I’ve also tried to preserve links to accreditation.
7+ Pictures of Cave Entrances
One thing that always strikes me about caves is how the openings are incredibly diverse. The standard hole in the rock wall is good, but there are so many unique elements that could be added to cave openings in any genre.
A cave opening that Adventurers would have
to crawl through.
A cave/archway with stairs leading down.
A cave you could drive a boat into. An excellent smuggler’s cove.
Some rights reserved by Stuck in Customs
Cave Entrance that is just a hole in the ground, incredibly vertical. And a picture of whatÂ it might look like after you get down into the hole.
A far off view of a cave entrance on a coast. Could easily be used as a cave that is hidden because it can’t be seen easily from the other shore.
A cave with an arch and Kanji writing in front of it.
Â A cave that you would need to swim into and underwater shots of that cave.
6+ Pictures of Cave Interiors And Cool Things There
Fire in a cave. Not quite lava, but anÂ encampmentÂ of cave creatures?
Some cave paintings.
Some rights reserved by Gyrus
Statues inside of caves. While these are very zen, they make great references for how statues might be encountered.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dominicspics/4705541834/ (really nifty statue)
Some rights reserved by Dominic’s pics
A plethora of pictures of stalactites and newer water formed formations.
http://morguefile.com/archive/display/599686 (Great Ambush Point)
Some rights reserved by KirstenPGow
Fire Caves and Lava Tubes
People crawling through caves
http://www.flickr.com/photos/tom-riddle/285907906/ (Going backwards with a pack)
by Tom Riddle
7 Maps Of Caves
Dru! on flickr made this old school map and shared it creative commons. It’s pretty nifty for cave layouts that aren’t square.
A tourist map of a cave, but I could see this being the sort of thing drawn for adventurers.
A greatÂ underwater cave map.
The Diketon Cave would make a great place to adventure or hunt down an alien monster/nest of werewolves.
Blackgate.com has an article on the art of the dungeon map with a lot of good resources.
Listed under free content, Goblinoidgames.com has a small adventure with a great map.
Â The very great Gozzy’s Cave Map Generator
11+ Cave Sounds
Ambient noise can really help you get some fun immersion. I trolled through the freesound.org archives to find a bunch of good cave sounds.
A weird sound that would be good on loop.
Water in a cave
Far off creatures in a cave
Wind howling through a cave
Bird flying in a cave
Tense music good for a cave
Gates Echoing while being opened in a cave
Scraping Sound In Cave
http://www.freesound.org/people/pscsound/sounds/71261/ – Temple Door Closing
Approaching Footsteps And Climbing Sounds
4 Challenges That Will Require Unique Thinking
1. The floor has fallen away and the only way to continue forward is to jump between spikes or pitons along the walls.
2. You’ve got the treasure, but had to go down a steep climb to get to it. It is very heavy, how do you get it back up?
3. Sound reverberates inside of some caves, so imagine trying to sneak up on a group of enemies who have seeded the area with noise traps or just crunchy ground cover.
4. Most caves are fairly humidity controlled (if there isn’t water in them) and things keep preserved for a long time, until they are taken outside of the cave. Have a map or other item that will need preserved in some way to survive outside of the cave.
5 Interesting Monsters/Plot Hooks For Fantasy Games
Caves are a pretty common trope of fantasy games, so here are some more unique monsters that you could throw into caves.
- A statue in the cave is actually the home to a vengeful spirit. Other monsters encountered within the cave are actually mindless beasts that have been herded in and kept there to be tortured. The vengeful spirit has been pulling life essence from these creatures to make itself stronger, finally getting enough juice to leave the cave and reach a town, abducting children.
- Anything from this: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/2020/Monster-Geographica%3A-Underground?it=1
- Â The great cave ape has been worshiped by the local villagers for aeons, but now it has not shown up. You must head deep into the cave, where the villagers fear to go, to discover the reason for the cave ape’s disappearance. It could have given birth and this means that a new cave ape must be brought out, it might have gone insane from age and must be put down, but then what will the people worship? It might be attacked by another creature like a dragon of some sort.
- Mining has driven deep into a cave structure and strange gargoyle-like creatures have begun attacking the miners. An old castle was buried in an ancient war, but the castle’s magical defenses (golems and gargoyles) are still active and are threatening to wake up en masse and continue the war. The castle might be partially intact but with many rooms ruined or destroyed, making for a great way to tweak a castle map and merge it with a cave map, all the while trying to not set off defenses or awaken gargoyles and golems.
- The manticore is a fantasy monster that feels underused in the current landscape. A local bear has been found slaughtered, as well as other deer and livestock. A manticore has awakened from a hundred years sleep and has begun hunting again. The adventurers must delve into the cave system nearby and try to find the manticore’s lair, but the manticore can make use of the higher areas of the cave, giving it more 3d movement than the adventurers can muster.
5 Monsters/Plots For Modern/Sci-Fi Caves
- Sharks In An Underwater Cave Or River In An Underwater Cave — If you are in a tight space and aren’t great at swimming, facing something that has mobility and can corner you can be a great challenge. Players might be able to shoot them from afar, but you can always have a swarm of them, making it a resource retention challenge.
Image By rosevita
- A cave would be a natural place for any supernatural entity in the modern world to hide. A coven of vampires, a pack of werewolves, the strange alien beings who have landed on earth. Strange rumors of a cave near a backwoods town could signal the existence of something… unique.
- A space station orbits far above an alien planet, the caves of the planet below holding massive alien ruins which could lead to better understanding of the long dead civilization, but a menace lurks in the caves and might be uncovered when aÂ party is sent down. (This is the plot I’m using in my current Dr. Who Game where the enemy is a Dalek.) Exploring and turning on unrecognized technology could lead to a chase through the caves for survival.
- Troglodyte refers to ancient people believed to have lived in caves, primarily. The idea that a group of troglodytes could survive deep inside of a cave system makes a great story, even if it isn’t very feasible. Stick this on an alien planet but with a group of creatures that is intelligent but currently undiscovered, and you have a whole plot for a planetary war/dispute with the PCs being moderators/mercenaries between the top-siders and planet-dwellers.
- Caves are a great place to stick anything unexplained. A cave could be a magic portal to another realm. Deep within the cave exploration, one silently passes through a portal, unknowing that they have entered another plane of existence/time.
5 Cave Books/Movies For Inspiration
- The Descent is a great movie for exploring the fear that is found when trapped underground.
- The script is pretty blecch, but the photography is beautiful. Sanctum is fairly similar in the “Oh shoot, I can’t get out” mindset driving the horror.
- BBC’s Planet Earth On Caves is brilliant visual cave porn.
- Nova — Mysterious Life Of Caves is very much along the same lines of Planet Earth. ItÂ delves into some other theories about cave formation that are nifty to see.
- The Cave — A fun adventure game set in a cave. Not realistic for how a cave would work, but lots of fun inspiration here for puzzles/challenges. It features a lot of climbing and maneuvering through cave environments, as well as puzzle solving to get past obstacles.
http://thecavegame.com/(Video has NSFW language from the players)
And whew. That’s it. I’m hoping this article is something you can mine for inspiration and resources to use alongside your own plots/games. It’s big, but it’s meaty and full of things that might make you think in different ways about a theme. I might do more of these in the future. Would you like articles like this? Packed to the gills with lots of resources that fit around a theme? What kind of themes would you like to see tackled?
Awesome reference: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/01/largest-cave/largest-cave-interactive
Be sure to check out the fly-through – great perspective!
That is really nifty!
The first time I went caving (limestone caves in West Virginia), I realized what B movies and TV hadn’t done right at all. Caves are very three dimensional.
I had a mental model of bumpy rock walls and ceilings and a flat floor where everything stayed on the same level. This makes a cheap set for your B movie, but mother nature doesn’t work that way.
There is no “floor”. Often what you walk on is a crack in the earth, randomly filled in with debris. And nothing is at the same level. You are climbing up or down all the time.
Often you can’t stand up, but sometimes it’s very wide, just not tall at all. Then you push through and end up in a big open chamber.
In my caving group, everyone had nicknames. Mine was Dust Spider. I gave up walking on two feet and used my hands all the time. Covered in dust, hanging on a wall, I was a big grey spider.
Yeah, so few caves meet the movie set idea of them. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to go with tropes that exist in everyone’s minds, but sometimes a much more fun adventure can be had when you skew towards realism. Kobolds and other small enemies become much more fierce when they can maneuver through the small cracks and squeeze but you can’t.
I loved this article, John. It will be very helpful in the future.
As for other themes, I don’t know if you’ll find any as easy to drop in or as rich in references as caves, but a few you might consider: underwater (grottos, reefs, trenches, steam vents, the lightless depths, etc), rainforest or jungle, ancient ruins (Petra, Chaco Canyon, Stonehenge, Catacombs of Paris or Rome, etc), swamps and marshes, haunted locations.
Thanks for the great resources. Keep up the great work!
Thanks! Underwater and ruins definitely peak my interest, so do Catacombs. I can so doing those with as many free things as I could find but throwing in a few map packs, etc. I definitely think I’ll be doing more of these in the future.
This article is ultra-galactic top useful, as are the links and comments of the commentators.
Conan GMs! READ THIS ARTICLE!
Conan players! Read Nojo’s comment about cave floors and stop whining about slow pace or having to take off your plate armor for Crom’s sake!
I would like to steer people again to National Geographic, which a couple of years ago had an incredible isometric cutaway of an actual cave system that the writer of the article it illustrated explored.
Can’t recall the details off the top of Mr Head but it was about 2010 or thereabouts and was of course accompanied by photos.
Maybe Dunx (who shares my enthusiasm for caves as great places to confront players with Thinges Thatte Shoulde Notte Bee) can remember. All I can recall is being furious that I couldn’t match the artist so I could properly illustrate my game cave systems to my players.
Thanks! Caves are definitely a big interest of mine and I always weep a bit when I see caves portrayed ala movie set caves instead of realistically.
…and now our firewall will let me follow Mutak’s link I see that my cave is in fact the same one as his.