A Pathfinder Roleplaying Game GM’S RESOURCE SUPPLEMENT by Creighton Broadhurst and David Posener
In the deep, hidden places of the world where darkness rules, lurk dangers beyond the wildest nightmares of most who dwell in the sunlit uplands of the surface. Only the bravest and most skilled adventurers dare to invade the realms of the depraved duergar, the insane derro or the spider worshipping drow. Beyond these terrible threats lurk the predators of the wild lands chief amongst them the feared purple worm and the implacable roper.
Running a campaign, or extended adventure, in the deep places of the world requires extensive preparation and planning. Caves & Caverns alleviates a GM's preparation time allowing him to focus on providing exciting and compelling adventures by providing the tools to craft memorable adventures.
Caves & Caverns presents:
27 ready-made encounters (EL 6—12) suitable as random encounters or as a springboard to the next adventure
Over 60 full stat blocks (EL 1—13)
Information on the features and hazards of deep cave networks
Caves & Caverns is a Dual Format PDF. The product's ZIP file contains two versions, one optimised for printing and use on a normal computer and one optimised for use on a mobile device such as an iPad.
You can check out sample encounters and more at ragingswan.com/caves
The Underdark, The Night Below, The Darklands, whatever you call it has amazing appeal thanks to the game’s long legacy. When I realized I had prepped a Darklands excursion as a one-shot for three gamers, two of which had only been gaming a few years and never had such a journey, I sifted through sourcebooks to help make it special. I really found what I needed in this book.
What was that? Good, solid encounters featuring the best cavern dwelling creatures. Without a doubt I had planned to toss at them a Roper and a Purple Worm, among other things. But plopping down the mini and saying roll for initiative isn’t going to give them stories to tell their friends about.
Caves and Caverns is a big, meaty 88-page sourcebook of encounters, stats and helpful underground challenges. With over 60 stat blocks (many advanced or custom designs), 25 encounters with detail, and a bunch of rule-sets for dealing with underground dangers like environmental hazards, descriptions of terrain features, and GM helpful hints, it’s one stop shopping for underground adventure prep.
There are also lots of random encounter tables to utilize and Raging Swan’s meticulous cataloging and cross-referencing so you can find what you need in a blink. There’s also a sample location, the Roaring Caverns complete with map! Organization is real clean and handy: each encounter is on a 1 or 2 page spread so you can just print out what you need (or keep the pages open on a laptop or tablet) and run it without a lot of page–flipping.
There’s even a little song/poem on the TOC page I had an NPC read to my players before they began and it set the whole stage. The group was already 12th level and the encounters range from CR 4 to CR 13, so I had a handful to pick from. The roper’s cave and additional terrain was a great challenge and its’ personality freaked them out. The purple worm encounter sent them flying as expected but with good foreshadowing and hints on the effects of the debris it kicks up made it very worthwhile. There were surprises, too. Everyone knows when you see stone life-like statues there’s a medusa or basilisk around. What about piles of smashed glass? I’m not giving that one away but my players loved it; especially the one who’s been playing for 32 years and never saw it coming.
Something I didn’t get to use but filed away for use when I run Shattered Star was underground groups. Entire groups fully stated with individuals, of drow, duergar, morlocks, svirfneblin and troglodytes are presented to drop into any encounter. Building gangs of stats like this can be tough on time, here they’re all ready.
This supplement reeks of homage to classics like Decent into the Depths of the Earth and The Night Below Campaign, but with fresh, new ideas and twists to make each encounter worthwhile and memorable plus easy to run. I’ll be referencing and using this for a long time! I was provided a copy for review.
Everything You Need to Stock Your Caves for Game Time
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.
(This review first appeared at my site Game Knight Reviews here on January 30, 2012: http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2012/01/supplement-review-caves-caverns-pf rpg-by-creighton-broadhurst-and-david-posener-from-raging-swan-press/)
Have you ever wanted to let the player characters run rampant through a cave or cavern but didn’t have the time to prep the possible adventure? Caves & Caverns is here to save the day! As another supplement in the GM’s Resource line of Pathfinder supplements, Caves & Caverns contains everything a Game Master needs for a dive into a series of caves and caverns without all the prep work. The only thing you need to do is draw the map and apply the options available within. It is the ultimate tool for the GM who wants to be ready for any decision the characters make.
The GM’s Resource series is the perfect set of supplements for the GM that doesn’t have enough prep time, whose player’s like to make unexpected decisions, or is simply too lazy. Caves & Caverns is the ultimate addition to that line, giving you a single focal point for those adventures that reach the depths of the dark places. With Caves & Caverns, you can take many of those other GM’s Resource supplements and create an even larger setting (in and around the caves and caverns) along with add interesting, 3-dimensional creature characters and warriors. If you ever suspect your players will decide to take their characters into the Ebon Realm, you need Caves & Caverns, or at least you really should get it because it could make your job that much easier.
Publication Quality: 9 out of 10
Raging Swan Press is known for their simple yet effective publications that exhibit very high quality. While there are a couple “gotchas” here and there, overall Caves & Caverns follows the same quality level as previous products. Stats are always extremely easy to read, the content is presented in an easy-to-understand format, and excellent illustrations are contained within. For this particular product, layout is very critical considering the high amount of mechanics being provided and it definitely does not let down.
Mechanics: 10 out of 10
Caves & Caverns is stuffed with mechanics. While the stat blocks are beautiful and crunchy, it’s the Features section that really stands out. Combat is just combat, and to battle your foes in a boring, plain “white” scene does not make for memorable games. The Features section alleviates this by presenting a number of mechanics to flavor the character’s delve in a number of ways from the floor to the ceiling and everything in-between.
Value Add: 9 out of 10
Caves & Caverns is filled with value for creating those memorable adventures through the Ebon Realm. The one small issue I found is that the span of Encounter Levels is too great. Ranging from 4 – 12 is a great variety, but almost too great. Characters of higher level may get bored with lower encounters while lower characters will be caught fleeing too often. It may have been better to focus more on one or two encounter level ranges, such as 4 – 6 and 10 – 12, by dividing the encounters for each range instead of spreading them throughout the entire range of 4 – 12. One thing to note is that lower level encounters can be scaled up by adding certain features, but it may become a bit overwhelming. Scaling is provided for each encounter +/- 1, but to go further than that will require more GM interaction.
With that in mind, Caves & Caverns is filled with value and lots of encounters and stat blocks for the GM to use for virtually any adventure. It ultimately becomes how far the characters want to go and how many times you decide to roll on the Random Encounters table, that’s what will define the adventure.
Overall: 9 out of 10
Caves & Caverns has a very focused purpose: to help quickly generate adventures through a series of caves and caverns with detail and flavor. It does this very well and if that’s the type of adventure you want to run, there’s little reason to look elsewhere. While it may not be a key part of your storyline, it could make for an excellent side quest.
This product is 88 pages long. It starts with a cover, credits, ToC, and Intro. (5 pages)
Forward (3 pages)
This talks about the design idea, what's in the chapters and the authors thoughts. It also has tables listing that list CR's in order and page number, by creature type and random monsters by EL.
Chapter 1 (16 pages)
This chapter talks about adventuring in the underdark or in this book they call it the Ebon Realm. It talks about travel times, tunnel sizes, skill checks and how they help, languages of the realm, air and bad air with how to notice and over come it, cave-ins, darkness and light sources, spells with dark and light descriptors, the varies types of floors one is likely to encounter and the problems they can present, different types of obstructions one can encounter, types of walls and climbing checks etc, water and what it can cause, floods and underground rivers, a sample cavern with full page map, it ends with a glossary of terms.
Chapter 2 (61 pages)
It starts but listing all the common creatures in the underdark by CR and listing which book they come from. Next it lists all the creatures by creature type, followed by 4 monster random encounter tables by tunnel type and 3 feature/hazard encounter tables by tunnel type. Next we get nearly 100 cave and cavern dressing to help make things look better in a random table.
After that we get to the encounters in the book. There is 25 primary encounters in this section that range from CR 6-13 with most falling in the 9-12 range. Each of these encounters have a bit of information about the encounter, full stat blocks, tactics of the creatures and advice on how to scale the encounter. In addition to those there is also a section on Drow (8 stat blocks and 4 brief encounters), Duergar (4 stat blocks and 1 brief encounter), Svirfneblin(4 stat blocks, 1 encounter and a little on a settlement), and Troglodytes (4 stat blocks and 2 brief encounters)
It ends with a OGL, about the authors, ads, and back cover. (4 pages)
Closing thoughts. The art work is black and white and ranges from pretty good to very good. Editing and layout was very good I didn't notice any errors. The encounters ranged from solid to in a few cases outstanding. Most of them was good or very good in design. The first chapter and random tables of the second chapter is reason enough to pick this up for anyone planning to run any games in the underdark. The encounters are just a bonus and a good bonus at that. The only negative thing I can say and this is more of a nit pick than a real problem is, the encounters tend to be more mundane and by that I mean creatures you would obviously expect to find and/or are common. I would have liked to have seen a few not a lot but a few more uncommon type encounters. Otherwise I really have nothing negative to say and that is a nitpick. So what's my rating? Well what choice do I really have? I am giving it a 5 star review.
Trust me, I'm a Succubus.
Underdark-rules for cavern-building & A LOT cool encounters
This pdf is 88 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside the front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC (containing a great rhyme suitable for use by bards), 1 page that explains reading statblocks, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 80 pages of content.
This massive pdf opens by providing lists of the statblocks by CR, Type and encounters by EL as well as a neat introduction by Raging Swan Press mastermind Creighton Broadhurst. The first chapter kicks off by providing excessive information on illumination, DCs to notice bad air effects, travelling times, effects of cave-ins, floors, obstructions and similar environmental obstacles to drive home the fact that adventuring in the subterranean realms feels distinctly different from journeying on the surface world. Stalactites falling down, gour pools and even the stability of different kinds of walls are covered. Not stopping there, we also get a wide array of aquatic hazards - acidic pools, rivers, stepping stones and a whole sidebox recapping rules for fighting under water. We also get rules for sudden flash floods and finally, a sample cavern, fully mapped in grid and b/w. Neat!
After this immensely useful compilation of crunch that can be considered an excellent toolset for any prolonged venture into the Underdark, we come to the second part of this massive pdf and are introduced to encounters. A lot of encounters. Anyone familiar with Raging Swan Press's TRIBES-line or GM resources essentially knows what to expect. Statblocks, environmental hazards and NPCs with mannerisms, distinguishing features etc. While at first I wasn't too blown away by e.g. accumulations of drow and duergar statblocks, I can say without any doubt that the encounters herein go far beyond anything you would normally expect from Raging Swan Press in that several of the encounters are so imaginative and, dare I say it, unique that I am pleasantly reminded of some of Rite Publishing's stellar characters. While they do not reach RiP's trademark level of sheer complexity, they do manage to walk the fine line between evocative statblocks and keeping up the trademark rather low magic old-school feel I've come to expect from Raging Swan Press. Each of the encounters has information to scale them up or down. Indeed, I may laud this pdf, but without examples that would not be informative, thus I present a selection of my favorite encounters from this pdf.
SPOILERS hence abound, potential players might want to jump to the conclusion.
Well, there is an elaborately-crafted little encounter with an intellect devourer that has taken over a Svirfneblin-ally of the PCs. Here, I enjoyed the stats for both creatures as well as the ready-to-drop-in nature of the rather complex scenario. On the negotiation/interaction-side, I absolutely LOVED a Merrow ferryman who disarms and pummels his foes into submission with the anchor of his craft. There also are elemental pilgrims, blind Jann zen-archer monks as well as an Efreeti summoner entombed in an obelisk of glass and guarded by his fierce eidolon. Have I mentioned the medusa with scorpion tails for hair?
And then there are my top 3 encounters: Plummet, in which the PCs fall several thousand feet while rocks potentially smash them through huge amounts of deadly fly-swarms only to plunge into a sea of sludge and flesh-eating maggot swarms. I think I had an evilgasm while reading this, especially due to the cool way in which the whole descent is presented rules-wise. My silver medal goes to Last Nail. Last Nail is a sword. Only, it isn't. The deadly blade of a once dreaded mass-murderer, constantly lusting for blood is actually a vampire mimic cleric who impersonates a weapon and only grudgingly admits to sentience while providing benefits to sufficiently bloodthirsty wielders. The idea alone is brilliant and the execution is even better - sunlight? Mimic's adhesiveness keeps the blade in the scabbard! You HAVE to love this. My favorite, though, and by far, is the Tourmaline princess. A noble (yet spoiled) warrior-princess from the elemental planes, known far and wide for her beauty and prowess. Though the former is an acquired taste, for the princess is a Xorn. This concept alone is roleplaying gold, but add her fighting style and we're in for a treat: She likes to pilot a sphere of quartz via her earthglide that is drawn by two crysmal steeds into her foes while she strikes from inside and uses the scything blades attached to the sphere to devastating effect. Yep. She is a noble xorn-princess (!) with a spherical (!!) quartz-chariot (!!!) drawn by Crysmal steeds (!!!!). And yeah, the rules provided match the awesome premise. That being said, while not all encounters are that far out and more general ones (like bountyhunters etc.) also are in this pdf, it is these where the file truly shines.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, which is quite an achievement for a file of this length. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press's classic two-column standard and is printer-friendly. The pdf also comes with a second version optimized for e-readers. The pdf is extensively bookmarked and the artworks are fitting and belong to the upper tier of b/w-illustrations. The toolbox in the beginning of the pdf is awesome and should be consulted by any DM planning an extensive venture of PCs into caves or the underdark - be it the now legendary Empire of Ghouls or a similar venture. The encounters of the second chapter are on par with the stellar quality of most Raging Swan files and even surpasses the most imaginative and iconic NPCs yet presented by them in some regards. That being said, giant-lovers, aficionados of dragons and fans of eldritch horror get a bit of a short stick here, with most of the encounters ranging in the low- and especially mid-level range and centering on humanoids and denizens from the elemental planes.
While this is no problem and does not diminish the quality of the pdf, it is something I'd love to see remedied in the sequel. And yeah, I'd love to see more alien elemental plane-encounters like my favorite one, perhaps magical effects in caverns like the faerzress and similar concepts. More environmental hazards would also rock. Keep in mind, though, that I'm currently trying very hard to find any blemishes in this stellar product and that including what I'm suggesting would have made this a 200+ pages supplement - when all is said and done, you get an excellent resource for the Underdark that oozes passion, heart's blood, quality and feels like a labor of love - all while providing one of the most easily usable books I've read in quite a while. Whether you shoot for the cavern-rules, the encounters or both - my final verdict will be 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval. One of the best products Raging Swan press has put out - Congratulations to Creighton Broadhurst and David Posener.