A cavern system is a series of interconnected caves formed from running water or lava flows, often reaching deep into the earth or side of a mountain. Cavern systems are the quintessential “dungeon,” seeing use by humanity over tens of thousands of years as shelters, places of worship, living quarters, refuges in time of war and storage areas.
Some caverns are cold, dim and dry, others are moist or warm, heated by steam funnels or lava flows. Footing can vary from mildly sloping floors (+5 or more to running difficulty) to jagged, broken, and twisting with dangerous gaps and pitfalls (+15 or more to running difficulty). Other dangers include rockslides (Very Difficult Agility or dodge to get out of the way if the character has warning), earthquakes (Moderate to Very Difficult acrobatics or dodge roll to remain standing; +10 or more to running difficulty), stalactites and stalagmites (3D to SD damage if impaled upon), steep drops and pits (1D damage per 1.5 meters over three meters), and underground rivers or dank pools.
Caverns occasionally supply edible fungus or lichens (Very Difficult survival roll to find), flint and obsidian (Easy survival roll) for fire-starting and spear-point knapping, fresh water either flowing or concealed behind a thin wall (Moderate survival roll), and sometimes supplies of minerals, metals, or gems (search requires a lot of time and multiple Moderate search rolls to locate a decent vein of ore).
Don’t Miss …
Located deep within the wilds of a vast jungle, the Lost Shrine is the stuff of legends. For hundreds of years, the local tribes have told and retold the story of the Grey Man, whose ashen skin and eyes of purest black arrived in the jungle during a bleak drought year in an ancient time.
The Grey Man’s magic was powerful and fierce – he could cause sickness, famine, and horror with his rituals. It was said he was so powerful, he could even use magic in the heat of battle, causing warriors to drop from stopped hearts or burned minds.
Enslaving the Gintu tribe (the name is only reluctantly revealed by the locals living in the area now), he cut a swath of tyranny throughout the region. Legends vary about his motivations: mere tyranny, an attempt to unite the feuding tribes, or preparation for resisting an invasion from the north. Whatever the case, the Grey Man’s arrogance toward the ancestors and gods was eventually his undoing, for more and more rebellion arose against him. With each atrocity he visited on the Gintu, their resistance grew more fierce. The bloodbath continued for many years, yet the Gintu could never unseat the Grey Man, and their numbers dwindled.
One day, a young warrior suddenly appeared. His muscled body shone in the sun, his eyes were clear and bright, and his spear was made of a fallen star. Legends, unfortunately, say little of the warrior – except that he was not Gintu. The young warrior’s great skill and weapon defiantly pierced the Grey Man’s defenses, something that had never happened before.
The Grey Man experienced an emotion he had never known: fear. Fleeing the burning remains of the village where the battle took place, he retreated into the jungle toward a sanctuary – a series of caves wherein slaves had placed most of his treasures stolen from other tribes, as well as his most powerful magics. Few knew of the caverns – the slaves who had worked them were executed after construction. But somehow, the Sky Warrior (as some legends name him) found the Grey Man’s redoubt. A fierce battle took place. The very ground shook; the skies grey dark, the beasts howled and roared in the jungle. Finally, all was silent. The Sky Warrior appeared at the mouth of the cave before surviving witnesses, women from three surrounding tribes.
The Sky Warrior said simply, “It is finished; the Grey is defeated.” With that, he shone brighter than the midday sun, and vanished. Since then, the cavern has become a shrine to both the Sky Warrior and the decimated Gintu. But few venture past the first cave. It is said there is … something … in the deep caverns. Something cold, inhuman, and wrong. Of course, that is where the Grey Man secured his treasure.
The entry to the caverns is well concealed from view near the surrounding area (Hard search roll), but it is easy to enter and shows signs of visitors. Seventy meters inside, is a small shrine cave with sitting stools, an altar, and various gifts of food and crafted goods. Torches and candles illuminate the area. A five-meter ceiling provides ample room to move, and a tunnel leads further into the caverns.
The adjacent tunnel runs approximately 33 meters and then takes a sharp drop, bending back upon itself The drop can be dangerously slippery, and stalagmites below could prove a gruesome end. The tunnel then travels 50 meters further, before opening at a churning pool. This pool of potable water bubbles and churns due to a pressure difference between it and the narrow opening at its bottom. The rock forming the opening is pure granite, and it has taken millions of years for this hole to form, allowing water to spray down to the next level. Extremely high moisture and underground runoff from the daily rainfalls in the region keep a plentiful basin of water in the pool. At the depths of the pool may be found several skeletons and their gear – perhaps victims of one or more of the nastier creatures in the caverns. Traversing the churning pool requires a Moderate swimming check. A failure indicates the swimmer was pulled under. A Critical Failure with a failure indicates the swimmer was pulled to the bottom of the pool or was attacked by the flesh-eating fish that live there.
Once across, the travelers again must navigate rough tunnels, which abruptly slope downwards. Foolhardy characters may be in for a surprise, as the sloping passage is lined with bat guano – making it very slippery indeed. Those failing a moderate climbing roll will slide down for a nasty five-meter fall in the lowest caverns. In any event, the actions let loose a swarm of bats, which have been altered by the evil presence of the lower caverns to attack any intruders to their domain.
After entering in the lower caverns (hopefully by rope or ladder), the characters may proceed toward the waterfall cavern to the north or the fungus chamber to the south.
The fungus chamber is slick with an unusually acidic fungus (burns for 30 damage every three rounds, dissolving organic matter; no resistance roll; may be washed off). The fungus chamber slopes slightly inward, making escape difficult. Here rest more remains of other explorers – although only their metal weapons and similar tools are seen. The waterfall room features a broad-spraying, high-pressure waterfall, fed from the churning pool above. Here, the heroes will find the evidence of the Grey Man’s existence. The entire room is lit with eerie fungus as thundering from the waterfall fills the air. The noise makes listening and communicating by sound impossible. Staying in the room for more than five minutes increases the difficulty of all actions by +2 per minute. Staying in the room for more than 15 minutes may result in permanent hearing loss (at the Game Master’s discretion; deafened characters get Hindrance: Hearing Loss, which affects the Game Master’s choice of hearing-related skills). Etched into every surface are bas relief pictures of the Grey Man destroying his enemies, enslaving people, and hoarding treasures. Odd and strangely disquieting runes in an unknown language fill the gaps between the images. The floors are littered with bones – the remains of the workers who once toiled here and in the next room.
If characters can penetrate the waterfall spray (which does 20+2 damage per round; takes three rounds to pass through), they find a small, well- hewn room. In here are tables and stools of polished stone, rotting tapestries, metal rings along a wall, and several strange artefacts. Traps and perhaps a dangerous encounter with a magically animated machine or undead minion could occur. The final chamber, the guardian room is a work of natural beauty. Shimmering gems glint from the walls (most are flawed and worthless), reflecting dazzling, although oddly, colored light throughout the chamber. Here too, are carvings of ornate scenes depicting the Grey Man at his power, with the world bowing down. A 300-kilogram gold idol of the Grey Man sits on a small mound of skulls. Its eyes are sapphires, and disturbing runes (that cause the viewer’s vision to blur) are etched into its base. It may be a powerful magic or psionic item.
The room is much colder than the other caverns – supernaturally cold. And something, some … presence flows from large crags in the northern facing of the room. Whether the spirit or soul or psionic resonance of the Grey Man emanates from that crag is up to the gamemaster based on the setting. In any case, characters may have to fight either the embodied remains of the Grey Man, or suffer mental/spiritual attacks as it tries to destroy the intruders.
Things to See
+ Brown, black, gray, or red pebbles, stones, or rocks
+ Stalactites dripping from the ceiling to reach stalagmites
+ Glinting metal, gems, and quartz, partially hidden by rock
+ Gritty sand
+ Trickling water, clean or tasting of iron, salt, sulfur
+ Small patches of gray or white fungus
+ Flowing river of lava, thin enough to step over or thick enough to block further passage
+ Bones of people and animals that died, trapped in the caves – possibly with items of value on or near them
+ Crude yet symbolic paintings on the walls, in reds, blacks, and whites
People to Meet
Generally, adventurers won’t find people in caverns, but if they do, they would include local villagers coming to the caverns to worship or explore (use the generic person game characteristics), archaeologists and anthropologists seeking knowledge (use the game characteristics for the scientist), or treasure seekers. Common animal encounters include bats, large cats, bears, and rats.
Treasure Seeker: Reflexes 2D+2, brawling 3D, climbing 3D, dodge 3D, jumping 3D, melee com- bat 3D, Coordination 2D+1, lockpicking 2D+2, marksmanship 2D+2, sleight of hand 2D+2, Physique 2D, lifting 3D, running 2D+ 1, swimming 2D+1, Knowledge 2D+1, business 2D+2, scholar 3D, Perception 2D+2, investigation 3D, search 3D, survival 3D, Presence 2D, persuasion 2D+2, willpower 2D+2. Move: 10. Strength Damage: 2D. Body Points: 12. Wound levels: 2.
Rats: Reflexes 3D, acrobatics 3D+ l, brawling 3D+2, climbing 3D+2, dodge 3D+1, jumping 4D, Coordination 1D, Physique 1D, running 3D, swimming 1D+2, Knowledge 1D, Perception 2D, hide: self only 4D, search 3D, Presence 1D, willpower 2D. Move: 3. Strength Damage: 1D. Body Points: 6. Wound levels: 1. Natural Abilities: teeth (Strength Damage only); swarm attack (roll a single fighting total for entire group of rats, adding + 5 to the total for every 10 creatures involved; if using the optional damage bonus, add the bonus for this roll to the Strength Damage of a single rat); small size (scale modifier 9 for single rat).
The Truth of the Legend
The three tribes can be given as much detail as necessary to help or hinder the players’ characters. Each of the tribes has their own version of the legends, often with conflicting information. Naturally, tribesmen will be reluctant to discuss the legends with outsiders, whom they view with suspicion. One of the tribes may follow a monotheistic religion such as Christianity or Islam. This tribe considers the Sky Warrior a holy person of their faith and has modified the legends to reflect this. Another tribe might be hostile, driving off any outsiders. A third tribe may follow older, matriarchal traditions and ancestor worship, and they prefer to toy with visitors or subtly lead them astray. The jungle near the Lost Shrine (in a valley shaped like a skull, obviously) may be filled with color and serenity or overrun with grey colored giant apes, mysteriously friendly black panthers, and swarms of biting insects. In addition, a more contemporary setting might have the complications of a modern civil war or famine.
What the Grey Man was depends on the setting. It might have been a demon prince or foul sorcerer. More intriguingly is the possibility it was an alien determined to carve out an empire from the primitive peoples it encountered In this case, it may have used psionic or other powers to shape itself (actually or through illusion) as a Human. The Sky Warrior may have been an angel, good alien, or perhaps the guardian spirit of a local tribe.