Ever since I went down into a real dungeon in the beginning of 2013 I'm trying to figure out how such a random chaos of tunnels, slopes and rooms might be expressed in a game of D&D. Basic geology, where do natural caverns develop and how, what entrances occur naturally, what vegetation, how much water, all that stuff. And it's a lot. Here are some of my findings:
- Here is a nice pdf that summarizes the topic in a way that's easy to access (it's teaching material).
- This is an interesting page about the various classifications of caves and caverns.
- And here is even more information about the science called speleology.
But the most inspiring thing is a map drawn by somebody that actually went down into a huge underground cave. Check this out:
|It's basically ready to be used in a game ... [source]|
Ain't she a beauty? And it gives a fair impression of what spelunking is really about (heights and depths, slopes, areas to climb), adding a variety of features that would upgrade most rpg-material I know. This is how it's done, in my opinion.
What else to use in a game?
How to get into those caves and caverns is another interesting topic. If you got a classic solution cave (that means, it's a cave where chemical reactions dissolved whole streaks of soluble rocks ...). There are several ways possible to get into caves like this:
- Small fissures (might be big enough for a kobold, but the human fighter in full plate might get stuck ...).
- Wherever a spring erupts (lots of water, sure way to get an encounter).
- Cave-ins (might be an easy way in, but it might also require some climbing ...).
- Man-made (might be because of some mining, or just an extension of a fissure; will be well hidden, if still active).
And they are most of the time difficult to find and/or to reach.
Sentient creatures living at such places should have huge advantages: they know fragile passages and places to hide (there should be thousands of those), they know where a little diving could get you to safety and where it might lead to certain doom.
Resources are really important for wild passages, I get that now. Use lights and climbing gear, have enough food with you. If you enter it's not guarantied that you come out again (at least not the same way) or how long it will take (camping in the Underdark should not be fun, either).
It might rain in caverns and there might be floods at times. Huge bodies of water blocking the way are no uncommon thing. How to get across those is a whole new problem (and there might be predators in the water ...).
Sound will carry far in caverns and warn those living there about intruders.
Everything is much more complicated than one would like it to have. No tunnels 10 feet wide and ten feet high. Footing is a problem almost everywhere. It's also full of small tunnels and grottos on every height level: perfect for ambushes, almost impossible to map.
Magic and Monsters make this a much more crowded space and allow for much more complex environments (huge mushroom forests, unique predators and unique prey,etc.). But that's no new insight.
Anyway, I need to make underground expeditions way more more difficult to access and to navigate than I did before.
But enough for now. Next up are some ideas how to implement this into the Goblin-Tribe Simulator ...