Just about every fantasy campaign I’ve ever played in has involved a cave system or cavern at one time or another. And though I’m a fan of dungeons, I really like it when there’s more of a natural element to them. The “Five Room Dungeon” technique I first learned about in Johnn Four’s Roleplaying Tips newsletter offers a great way to structure a quick dungeon (whether naturally formed or hand-made). But sometimes it’s tough to come up with natural formations or challenges to even fit in the 5-room format.
That’s where Caves & Caverns comes in from Creighton Broadhurst and David Posener. This resource for Pathfinder campaigns would most likely work in just about any D&D/OSR-inspired system, but offers a ton of options to consider when building cave/cavern systems for your adventures. Though it’s designed for the “Ebon Realm,” it’s really synonymous with areas like “The Underdark” in D&D-speak, but can really be applied to any world with accessible areas underground.
So what do you get in this 88 page tome? A wide variety of bits and pieces you can use in multiple contexts. Descriptions and details about different features and hazards of the underground world, along with a sample cavern that includes many of the features included. 60+ stat blocks for creatures that are CR 1 to 13. Nearly 30 ready-made encounters EL 4 to 12. Whether you use the different features described here, the NPC stats and the various encounters are great to have in your bag of tricks for the occasional improvised adventure scenario.
And Raging Swan does a great job of making things easy to find. Even though there’s no index, there are multiple tables designed to get you to the page you want to go to… Random encounters? Check. Roll a d100 on an appropriate table (or pick randomly) and run with the encounter given. Designing a quick cavern for your next session? Roll d100 to see which features might add a bit of spice to the night. Of all the random tables however, it’s the “Cave & Cavern Dressing” table that’s my favorite. Little things that will drive players insane or give them hope that things will turn out all right… “A faded chalk arrow on the wall points in the opposite direction to the PCs’ travel” or “Faintly carved into the cavern wall is the Undercommon word for danger. The last letter of the word is missing and a smudge of dried blood on the ground hints at the carver’s fate…”
As with all Raging Swan products, there’s a lot of detail here. The book starts with a brief lesson on the difference between Primary (big, with few obstacles), Secondary (smaller tunnels off the big ones that may lead to communities of underworld denizens), and Tertiary tunnels (only the skinny or suicidal explore these tunnels with many dead-ends, rivers, and worse lying in wait). Each has slightly different difficulties and things to watch for. And then you get into the various things to watch for like areas with bad air, water hazards, deep darkness, and worse. Plus you never know what may be living in the tunnels waiting to snack on unsuspecting explorers.
That’s where the encounters come in, covering everything from the good old Drow and Purple Worms to Duergar, Trogolodytes, giant insects, and worse. Each encounter offers stat blocks for any monsters or attacking NPCs, plus descriptions of the area, any tactics that may be used, additional obstacles, plus how to scale and adapt the encounter for more or less advanced groups. I like the Drow and driders, but was more impressed with some of the other folks living in the dark like the Blind Jann Monks in the “Cavern of Echoes,” the Darkmantles waiting to pounce from the ceiling in “Death from Above,” and the Morlocks (love the Time Machine reference) in “Degenerates.” There’s a little bit of everything.
My one issue with this book, as I have with some of the other big supplements like this from Raging Swan, is the lack of a fully fleshed out cave system to explore. Yes, Caves & Caverns includes a sample cavern called “The Roaring Caverns” with a map and a few pre-selected features, but the map that’s provided doesn’t really show where any of those features are, nor does the sample provide any hints on placement of particular features or encounters for the best effect. If you’re going to provide a sample, go all the way with a mini-adventure in the book itself or refer to another product that has a more detailed example.
But that’s one nit and you get a lot of bang for your buck here folks. If you’re planning on doing any underground adventuring with your group, Caves & Caverns is a no-brainer to pick up to add more inspiration to your preparation. For some other reviews and a sample of the artwork included in the book, check out Raging Swan’s product page. To pick it up, you can get it at e23, the Paizo store, plus RPGNow and DriveThruRPG.
- Weeknote 24 from Raging Swan (raging-swan.livejournal.com)
- Weeknote 10/10 from Raging Swan (raging-swan.livejournal.com)
- Gygax On…Equipment from Raging Swan (raging-swan.livejournal.com)
- D&D A to Z: Underworld from Ben’s RPG Pile (bensrpgpile.com)
- Weeknote 3/10 from Raging Swan (raging-swan.livejournal.com)
- Gygax On…Challenges from Raging Swan (raging-swan.livejournal.com)
- Ring of Five Questions: Creighton Broadhurst from Greyhawkery (greyhawkery.blogspot.com)