Spelunking we shall go, and, A giveaway!

Well, visiting a tourist cavern, not hardcore spelunking into a cave.

This weekend we’re taking a little getaway and one of our stops will almost certainly be Seneca Caverns, a  little tourist stop near Lake Erie that I never even knew existed, despite my interest in caverns. It may not be huge or especially colorful, but I really dig the map of the caverns on their web site which makes it look like an eight-level dungeon.


Seneca Caverns map, used with permission.

My wife says that I will never make it to level 7, but thinks my daughter can get there (I assume level 8 is off limits). If you’d like to make your prediction about how deep I’ll get before becoming lodged, freaking out, or fleeing in panic, leave a comment. The correct answer (or a randomly selected correct answer if I get more than one) will win their choice* of fabulous prizes from my collection of stuff I’m trying to get rid of.

*Some restrictions apply: One prediction per comment. Excludes boxed games. Winner must live in North America or be willing to cover postage costs over $5 US.  Giveaway cancelled if I drown in Ole Mist’ry River, fall to my death, disappear in the Wild Cave Area, or am eaten by cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers.

Published in: on August 14, 2015 at 10:56 am  Comments (9)  
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Last week was a vacation to Williamsburg, Va., and the environs.  On the way home we stopped at the Shenandoah Caverns, which is a really big cavern complex (there’s also a sort of museum of parade floats and inauguration decorations, no pics of those in this post).

For some reason I really amused myself calling Shenandoah “Shabbadoah,” and getting my daughter to do it too.  I was curious about at what point my wife would put an end to the tomfoolery and it turns out she drew the line at my singing “O Shabbado, I long to hear to you…” in the car.  Can’t blame her.

Anyway here’s a metric assload of pictures.  Unfortunately there was no map of the caverns available, and the tour was too fast-paced to map while snapping pictures, but one of the things that really impressed me was all the different levels and passages in these caverns.  I’ve been in other caverns (a huge geode under Put-in-Bay, a cavern toured by boat somewhere in Pennsylvania, and a few small caves), but nothing quite like this.  The floor was covered in fine gravel (otherwise there’d be a few inches to a few feet of water on the whole floor), and although a few spots were chained off, it was a pretty good length tour.

So here’s the old entrance (no longer in use), sorry it’s a blurry one:

Right in the middle of the gift shop/ticket outlet/post office.

Here are some views of the passages:

That formation along the ceiling is called ‘bacon’.  No, really.  National Geographic came and photographed the bacon formations, saying they were among the country’s most realistic, whatever that means.

You can see the gravel floor, about 3′ of clearance, and then another ‘floor’.

Some nice pillars. There is something hiding in that dark recess.

OK, enough of that.  How’s about some stalagmites and stalactites.  Remember, stalacTITES need to hold on tight; stalaGmites grow on the Ground.  Or something like that.


These looked pretty freaky and sparkly.

The ‘bacon’ formations, I think, must be a subclass of ‘curtains’.  There were tons of these sorta-stalactites along the perimeter and making awesome walls.

This is looking straight up at a white curtain. If I’d been more attentive to the tour guide, I could tell you why it’s white. I’m guessing salt.

If you’re wondering how high the cavern’s ceiling is, it varied from about 20 feet at the tallest to maybe 4 feet in a few passages (lower areas existed but are obviously off-limits).  For example:

This is looking straight up at one point where there isn’t a lot of activity.

Here’s a fairly large chamber. Maybe that’s more like 25 feet?

A 4′ gnome navigates a small passage.

We also saw one stairwell that was chained off…maybe that’s where they hide the treasure?

Anyway, there was lots of D&D inspiration here, of course!

Some smaller gnomes (knockers?) tried to distract us with invitations to their city.

But we ignored them.  Instead we found a strange four-armed, fire-juggling critter:

And even the dread Tsathoggua — but he didn’t notice us, as his back was turned.

I also seemed to attract some pesky Facula.

The caverns has its share of dungeon funk, too!

Cave ‘popcorn’. Not very freaking appetizing.

There is also a little bit of moss growing, although they are pretty careful to turn off the lights as soon as tourists walk out of an area (this is a 4e dungeon with lights all over the place, of course).

I mentioned a monster lurking earlier.  See if you can spot him!

Some unsuspecting tourists, looking around…

But ho!

What’s this?!?

‘Tis the ‘bishop’! Looks more like an anti-cleric to me!

Anyway no dungeon is complete without some loot.  We looked all around.  The frosty white formations look sparkly but are not precious.

Snowmen? No, just ‘mites.

A really impressive ‘waterfall’ of sparkliness… a good 12′ high.

There was also a tiny castle, but nothing inside.

Sadly thwarted, we decided to just take a few touristy shots…

It’s a cool 56 degrees down here, so Riley’s wearing her terrycloth cover up over her clothes.

One last look…

But wait! What’s this?

A sizable horde in the ‘wishing well’! (I worry that the money is going to ruin the formations down there…you’re not supposed to touch anything in ‘living’ rock or it will stop growing…)

Huzzah! Another successful dungeon crawl!

We hurry past the cracking columns

OK, that cracked about 10,000 years ago.

And the snapping jaws of a hellmouth!!!

With a final glance back, we take in the cavern

It’s not blurry…we’re just drunk on adrenaline!

Maybe we’ll be back some day.  In just 30 years or so, we’ll find this pair of ‘mite and ‘tite will have grown into a solid column.

At the lower right! The actual distance is maybe 1/4 an inch.

Published in: on June 27, 2012 at 8:00 am  Comments (4)  
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Keying the ancient copper mine (short B/X dungeon for level 1-2 characters)

I mentioned earlier that by rolling randomly in the Moldvay book (with some help from the Dungeon Alphabet and Kelri’s Old School Encounter Reference), I got a set of encounters for this mine map (the second one in this thread — the first one looks even better but when I printed it out is was a little too faint to use), and then came up with a rationalization for why these monsters were all in the same dungeon. The party cleared out the dungeon last night so I finally publish the key.


1. The entrance has an old stature, crafted finely of stone, showing a man and a dwarf shaking hands. The eyes of the two figures seem to follow the party. (see area 7)

2. Three spider crabs (AC 13, 2 HD, d8+poison, 120/40′, save F1, Ml7) hide on the ceiling here. They may ambush adventurers who are investigating the mines between here and area 1. Those tunnels are mostly empty, but one is filled with webs and small harmless spiders.

3. Among the debris here is a cask filled with sleep-inducing gas. If it is opened, gas fills a 20′ radius area and all breathing it must save vs. Poison or sleep as if affected by a Sleep spell. The gas takes 1 turn to dissipate.

4. The passage to 4 is filled with water, and slopes toward the middle so that the central part is completely underwater. Five gnomes are here mining, and they are crazed with Gold Fever (see below). (AC14, 1 HD, wpn., 60/20′, D1, Ml8)

5. The pool in this room is magical and will teleport any who enter to area 10. If two characters enter at the same time, they will teleport on top of each other (Save or die — Telefrag!). If a character does not move from where they appeared before the next character enters, this also causes a telefrag check.

6. These tunnels are also filled with webs and the egg sack of the Crab spiders from 2.

7. There is a puddle on the floor which shows whatever the statues in area 1 see. One kobold from area13 will be on duty here to watch for intruders.

8. Kobold guard room. Four kobolds from area 13 are stationed here. They will send one of their number to rouse the remaining kobolds to ward off intruders. (AC 13, 1/2 HD, wpn., 120/40′, NM, Ml6)

9. Dwarf camp. Five dwarves will be gorging themselves on Goldbug Shrooms here. They will challenge any intruders and attack if they don’t immediately leave, calling them “claim-jumpers.” (AC 15, 1 HD, wpn, 60/20′, D1, Ml8) 600 platinum pieces (and two cobras (AC13, HD1, d3+poison, 90/30′, F1, Ml7) are in a locked chest. The dwarves are irrational and if subdued will lead the party into ambushes if possible, heading toward areas 13 and 14. There is also a small smelting set-up for casting metal into coins here in one corner.

10. This chamber has a throne set between the two pillars. Sitting on the throne casts a curse (save vs. Spell) which makes the recipient unable to lie. This effect will not be apparent until the character actually tries to tell a lie. It also creates a shiny, sparkly halo around whoever is seated on the throne, whether or not they make their save.

11. A living statue (iron) in the shape of a giant black cat sits here. It will demand that each human or demihuman who enters the room answer a riddle. After four riddles are missed it will attack.

12. Heaps of human bones litter the tunnels here. Six skeletons will emerge from the side tunnels, rising from the bone heaps, when a living creature passes. (AC13, 1 HD, wpn., 60/20′, F1, Ml12). A sack under another bone heap contains 300 SP and 30 GP.

13. Kobold quarters. Fifteen kobolds in all live here, but some are on guard duty in areas 7 and 8. The kobolds here will always hide if given warning and spring out from their hiding places (there is an old dining table and fireplace in here for cover) to ambush intruders. They will retreat through the hall to area 10 hoping to lead the party into the skeletons and escape by doubling back through area 9, if possible. Alternately they may call on the dwarves in 14 for help. They have convinced the dwarves and gnomes in the mine that they are actually gnomes too, and the party is actually goblins. The Gold Fever has addled their sense enough to make this possible!

14. Six dwarves are noisily mining here, looking for gold. They have the Gold Fever.

15. This chamber has a large (10×10′) open shaft dropping 20 feet.

16. Three cobras nest in the tunnel.


So how can dwarves and gnome be in the same mine with kobolds? The easy answer is they are at war, but with these small numbers and the small size of the mine, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. And what the hell are the gnomes doing in a room blocked off by water?

I decided the gnomes and dwarves must be deluded or crazy, and are actually working for the kobolds, mining whatever precious metal still can be gotten out of the mine. The kobolds are taking advantage of the fact that the special mushrooms which grow in the area cause both “Gold Fever” (an obsession with finding precious metals) and hallucinations. So, the gnomes and dwarves believe that the kobolds are gnomes, and willingly hand over the gold they find because the kobolds say they are taking it to a safe vault. When the dwarves and gnomes meet the adventurers, they are very suspicious and the slightest provocation will convince them that the party are “claim jumpers” and they will attack. Their high morale makes surrender unlikely and they will get a +1 to checks since they are so obsessed with protecting their gold.

Most of the mine will have strange yellow & orange mushrooms growing on the floors and walls.

Goldbug Shrooms: These large, yellow and orange mushrooms are edible, but eaters must save vs. spell each time they eat it. A failed save inflicts Gold Fever. The sufferer will want to search for veins of precious metals, and work tirelessly on mining. Soon their life will consist of little more than eating more mushrooms, mining, and sleeping in fitful snatches. They will also hallucinate, confusing humans, humanoids, and demihumans (believing that humans are orcs or that kobolds are gnomes, etc.). The mushrooms are addictive, and withdrawal from a diet of them requires the addict to roll under his or her CON on 3d6 each day for a full week. At the end of a week, if all rolls are made, the addiction is broken. Otherwise the addict loses 1 CON per day until death (0 CON) or more mushrooms are consumed. Exposure to sunlight will negate the obsession and hallucinations but does not cure the addiction. It is rumored that a cure for the addiction may be found among the hidden scrolls and potions of the Alabaster Tower.

The skeletons are obviously the remains of human miners, and possibly guards or soldiers. When I rolled that the statue in area 1 would be a pair of creatures, I decided to make it a man and a dwarf, since the mining operations of Telengard were historically run by humans but presumably they would take help from dwarves if available. Because the odd effect for the statue was “eyes follow the party,” I decided to make it a spying device, and the kobolds watch the entrance of the mine with it. The back story is that humans and dwarves mined here together but the Goldbug Shrooms drove them mad and they killed each other off. 150 years later a few gnomes decided to see if any gold was still in the mines. When they did not return for some time, a band of dwarves went to search for their cousins, but obviously they did not return either. The kobolds have effectively enslaved all the dwarves and gnomes with Goldbug Shrooms, and they take the mined gold away to the pay tribute to a large band of humanoids in a local dungeon (the kobolds need to hand over a lot more loot before their tiny band will be allowed to enter the relative safety of the dungeon!) The dwarves stumbled across a small platinumvein and have finished exploiting it; this will pay off the rest of the kobold’s debt.


I used a bunch of riddles I found online; in hindsight I should have selected the better ones to use rather than rolling. A few were really too hard, and the different styles (modern and Anglo-Saxon) threw the players off. A two-minute timer worked very well to add tension to the riddle-solving though.

There was a trap in a room with a pool (so I took the obvious route and rolled on the pools table in Dungeon Alphabet to get a teleporter, and to make it a trap, I decided it will teleport everyone who enters to exactly the same spot, so that they will teleport on top of each other, save or die!).

A special in another room I decided to make a throne, to foreshadow the many magical thrones in Telengard.

The throne and pool and statue are not explained at all. Dungeons are weird places.

Published in: on November 4, 2010 at 8:54 am  Comments (1)  
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“Well, Peggy, this is a hellmouth. You don’t want to leave this open, not with a baby in the house.”

The Mad Meg post a while back included a bit about how she was literally going into the jaws of Hell, and I meant to write more about that, because the very idea is just awesome. Apart from the mythic nature of such a “dungeon” (are you actually chewed and digested by Hell? Can Hell be killed? Do you just slip in past the chompers and explore from there?) the jaws of Hell/Hell-mouths recall Mayan architecture (the portals to important buildings are mouths, as are the portals between worlds) and, to go from the sublime to whatever, there was also a great SNL sketch about Bob Villa rehabbing a haunted house, which is where the post title comes from (transcript here).

So, here are some more images of Hell-mouths I found online:

This was identified as set design (?) for a theater.

A fairly simple woodcut.

Another woodcut.

Note the porcine Hell mouth on the left.

A colored version of one of the woodcuts above; I found this at Monster Brains. Table for three in the Hell Mouth. People are just dying to get in.

Not sure if this a really weird archeological find or some kind of art installation or what.

Nom nom nom.

Thy flesh consumed

I’m not terribly familiar with the canon of old, or even recent, D&D modules since we very rarely used them in my gaming groups. But I do recall a user-created level for the computer game Doom which, when mapped, was clearly the alimentary canal of … something, with a tangled labyrinth representing intestines and so on. You can guess what the exit was. I was hoping I correctly recalled the name of the level as “Fistula” but no, that was another Doom level that was not biological at all. Now I kind of wish I’d kept some of my old Doom books for the maps. There’s bunch online, like this hand.

Squidman did a neat dungeon based on his inner ear. Any other dungeons based on anatomy? Hmm. Like Fantastic voyage, but into Hell.

I smell a project for my potential DMing debut…

Word to the wise: It is probably best NOT to Google “anatomical dungeon” at work. Likewise “alimentary map” and suchlike.

But I did find some interesting things at home, like this, this, and this. Then again it’s hard to beat this.

Published in: on May 6, 2010 at 1:02 pm  Comments (5)  
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Who would Gary send?

(Gary’s portrait on the 8001 insert)

Yeah, terrible half-pun. Anyway, I recently noticed that there is at least one set of minatures depicting a dungeon party designed by Gary Gygax — Grenadier’s old Action Art set 8001. (Insert & box images from the Lost Minis Wiki)


Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 3:20 am  Comments (7)  
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Feb. 21 is Auger Appreciation Day

Ten foot pole?




Rope and grappling hook?



Che–wait, what? (more…)

Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 1:42 am  Comments (12)  
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