A shifting of stone freezes the adventuring party. They cluster together, backs pressed and eyes scanning for any signs of movement. But the cavern extends far beyond their light. They flinch and twitch at the sounds of scratching beyond the darkness, waiting for whatever might leap out. Clawed footsteps skitter in circles around them. And yet, nothing approaches. The monsters simply wait, drinking in the intruders’ fear and waiting for their brethren to attack from above.
We continue our coverage of caves with the second set of cave encounters. These next ten will complete our 1d20 list before we move on to a guide for running everything subterranean. As you might have come to expect, each encounter has a short flavor introduction, explanation on how to plan and run it, as well as possible variations for your own game. We aim to provide everything you need to feel inspired and confident in planning your own adventures!
Table of Contents
11 – Living in the dark caves for generations has twisted people into ravenous monsters.
The cave path continues deeper into darkness. Openings dot the walls, twisting out of view. Everything is quiet. As the group moves through these interconnecting tunnels, the edge of their vision reveals two forms. They are indistinct in the dim grey but are easy to identify as humanoid. Fellow travelers? Lost souls? The adventurers are not so lucky. A misplaced step shifts a stone and echoes sound down the shaft. In response, the two forms tense, then drop to all fours and dash out of view.
Let’s kick off our second half of cave encounters with one that’s sure to put chills in your players’ spines. This encounter aims to make full use of claustrophobic, hive-like tunnels. The environment that they transition into before seeing the forms should resemble a web of small tunnels. There will be many areas in which they must squeeze and shuffle to get through and your descriptions should focus on the dense environment and stifling air. The atmosphere itself should pressure them. Be sure to introduce this slowly so that it is less obvious they are entering a lair. The side tunnels can appear first before the main path becomes smaller, eventually joining them in an ant’s nest-like network. This lays the groundwork both for the tone of the reveal and the combat that follows.
If you wish to make your own map for this cave encounter and are unsure how to, we would advise avoiding over-planning. You can start by simply making it a series of slightly larger chambers, set out randomly. Then, connect them with a multitude of tight tunnels that weave around and pass through each other. They don’t need to look planned. Do what you can to add elevation levels, even if it means designing a map that is viewed side-on. Decoration should come last and be very basic. The lowest room can be a dumpsite for bones and bodies, with a feeding room above it, and perhaps some sleeping areas towards the top.
Be sure to also describe the figures slowly, in the seconds that they come into the range of light or darkvision. Both of these will place them in dim light, making it difficult for players to make out detail. The intention is for them to seem like humans until they hear the party. A high perception check/score can slowly show more detail. Keep in mind the mechanics of stealth and passive stealth as the party approaches, and thus when the creatures hear them.
Once the creatures hear the party, combat engages. You can treat them as ghouls, though with some modifications for their environment. We would advise making them blind but with highly evolved hearing, inspired by the creatures in ‘The Descent’. Allowing them to move through the tunnels without having to squeeze is another way to show their control of the lair. They will scurry through the hive’s tunnels, attempting to separate the party and using their venomous claws to paralyze and drag players away to feed. Emphasize the environment in their movement and throw in a (similarly modified) ghast as a possible alpha.
12 – Eating the wrong mushrooms has had a curious effect on another group and they need the party’s help to create an antidote.
A light illuminates the ceiling of a cavern up ahead. Forms surround it, casting shadows across the surrounding surfaces. They seem like simple rock formations at first, but the adventurers quickly realize that they are moving. The silhouettes appear… human? It takes a moment of observation and a few steps closer before they begin to understand. The shapes are, in fact, human. They sit on the ceiling as if it were their ground, one of them holding a torch in the center of their group. As the party approaches, a figure notices them and beckons with a friendly wave.
Variety is the spice of life, and this cave encounter takes a very different tone from the last. The basis is a second party of adventurers that made an unexpected blunder in their travels. Their journey through the tunnels brought them to a grove of mushrooms and fungus, which one of them elected to mix into their food and tea. “It’ll be fine,” he said. Curiously, brewing with the local flora caused gravity to reverse for them. They have been stuck this way for the last day, unable to reach the grove due to the shift in perspective. If they could, they are confident they could create an antidote to the effect. That is where your players come in.
Once your party (hopefully) realizes the group is non-hostile and approach, you will need to play the characters. Try to write them like another party of players, each with their own unique characteristics and mannerisms. Aim to make them varied and memorable. This means that you should also limit their numbers as you want your players to walk away and remember their names. We would advise not exceeding three or four. Don’t feel the need to write out their entire stories either as it is unlikely players will question them in that much depth. You can limit it to why they’re in the cave and leave anything more for if the group makes a future appearance! Your real effort should be in playing out their group dynamic. Have them be friendly and inviting to players, though there may be tension towards the members that picked and then brewed the mushrooms.
A tunnel can descend from the chamber, out of the other party’s reach, and into the grove. This the reason they have not been able to go back, though your players are able to do it for or with them. Beyond the tunnel will be a fungus-infested room. Other openings can lead to other chambers, all coated in mushrooms. Your party’s objective is to take the type of mushroom believed to act as an antidote, which you can distinguish from the gravity-reversing mushrooms by color.
The catch? Much of the fungus in the room is, in fact, violet fungus and shriekers. Knowledgeable characters can easily identify the latter as they survey the area. Reaching and picking the necessary plants will mean bypassing a field of them and upsetting the shriekers will send swarms of bats into a frenzy. Alternatively, you can place the mushrooms that players need on the back of a sleeping, fungal-themed shambling mound. A low stealth roll or triggering of a shrieker will wake it and engage combat.
Reversing gravity is a very tempting prospect for players. As a reward, you can have the alchemist character show them a way to combine the ingredients into a temporary potion. Your players are sure to find creative ways to use it.
13 – The cave wall opens into the ruins of an ancient jail. One prisoner remains, immortal and willing to bargain for their release.
Broken ruins and shattered dungeon rooms are not uncommon when traveling below the surface. Remnants of old settlements, temples, and even prisons remain in the stone. Unfortunately, it is the latter that the party comes across. A collapsed wall brings them into a hallway of carved stone and bricks, ancient and eroded. Sections are caved in and worn away. It takes walking past a few alcoves to realize the purpose of the structure. These extensions were once prison cells, the bars, amenities, and features lost to time. All but one. At the end of the hallway is one cell, its bars still solid iron and warding runes covering its perimeter. The adventurers’ torchlight illuminates the space as they move closer, revealing a grinning face in the back corner.
One of our favorite types of encounters is posing a difficult, tempting choice rather than combat. This is the basis for this cave encounter. The setting is intentionally simple, having players spot the opening to a small ruin through a collapsed tunnel wall. This damage will be recent, playing into the later interaction. The ruin itself should look ancient and broken, meaning that cave-ins can be used to limit connecting rooms as much as you like. Likewise, consider how much lore you want to include in the room. The importance of the space means that records might have been left behind in etchings or murals. These will have worn with time, so how much is recoverable is again up to you. Think about how much information you want players to have and decide from there. The exception to all of this will be the single, preserved cell and its wards.
Once the interaction begins, most of your attention will be on playing the prisoner. The creature itself is the most important part of this cave encounter. It will be either a devil or an archfey, or the equivalent for your world. This is because it will bargain for its freedom. It should act abstractly and with an otherworldly charisma, both from its nature and the madness of its imprisonment. You can emphasize this through behavioral tics and mannerisms. Ideally, both the players and their characters should have difficulty reading its intentions. You should also have a firm understanding of its morality and whether it will lie. Tricksters can be fun but they tend to place the focus on discerning what is a lie rather than the creature’s offer. An outwardly honorable and truthful negotiation can avoid distractions from the moral decision.
The boon that the creature offers can be almost anything you wish. The nature of the offer is very similar to a warlock patron so you may wish to look at pact boons and invocations for inspiration. You might have the prisoner roll insight on a party member and then use that to offer them something you know the character would want. This is where the evidence of a previous group can add pressure. They were surely offered similar power, yet denied the prisoner. Did they know something the party doesn’t?
A fun way to add tension is by offering each player a boon that is tempting to them. After all, the prisoner only needs one of them to release it. This can help players focus on their character’s motivations and morality. It can inspire tense, in-character discussion but does require a table that can argue as characters without becoming angry in-person. This also requires you to make it physically possible for each character to break the seal. Maybe the wards can be dispelled with magic or by breaking the runes with a magical weapon?
Accepting a boon in exchange for releasing an unknown, potentially dangerous being tends to be an inherently selfish choice. It should have visible consequences, both for the world and the players. The party might later encounter warlocks bound to it or even a cult worshiping it. Perhaps it leads to the creature empowering one of their enemies?
14 – An ooze lurks in the tunnels, using powerful hallucinogenic venom to trap and eat its prey.
Slime covers much of the cave’s walls. It drips down from small holes in the stone, coating the surfaces in slick, black grime. While not appreciated by the party, it does not seem at all threatening. And it does not seem to be the strangest thing in the caves, as a turn brings them into an open field. They turn back, but the path behind shifts into a warm, bustling tavern. Many faces in the room are recognizable and invite the adventurers to stay and drink. Sitting down sees the room morph again. This time, it is the childhood home of one of the group. They are sitting down for a family dinner, surrounded by their loved ones. But a burning sensation is prickling their skin as a creature begins to feed on their paralyzed bodies.
Oftentimes an encounter is needed as a random occurrence during travel, without lasting consequences or ties to the larger world. This is the purpose of this cave encounter, while also giving you an opportunity to bring in players’ backstories.
The encounter will begin with the appearance of the slime. It should seem to be an environmental feature at first, with knowledge checks needed to identify it as caustic and poisonous with prolonged exposure. The only other detail is the strongly acidic smell. This is to make sure players take notice and are curious about it without immediately putting them on alert. It will grow worse as they move, until the hallucinations begin to appear. You have the option to make it trigger a constitution save with the DC growing as exposure continues, but keep in mind how this can affect the encounter when players succeed. Alternatively, have the ooze wait until they rest to apply its toxins.
The content of the visions can be whatever you wish. They provide an opportunity to play into character backgrounds and motivations through their own memories but you don’t need to use them if your players don’t enjoy that aspect of roleplay. You can simply make them comfortable, inviting, or confusing, as the real importance is in the mechanics. Insight checks can expose illusory people as fakes, while perception can have them notice the feeling of acid or burns appearing on another player. Similar checks, resistances, or spells will also work. Any of these discoveries will have that person’s visions begin to break down, after which they can wake the rest of the party. Meanwhile, roll ticking acid damage. You can let players act in a loose turn order by simply asking each player what they do in turn. Once a player breaks out, the acid damage is discovered and ‘applied’.
This is when initiative is rolled and players enter the cave encounter’s combat, centering around a modified black pudding. It is the source of the slime and hallucinations and has been feeding on their unaware bodies. Remove the creature’s armor and weapon-corroding effects and replace them with constitution saves to resist the poison. Failing will blind them with visions. For a little extra oomph, you can also give the ooze a chain devil’s Unnerving Mask. Finally, we would advise taking extra care with the ooze’s damage. The prior damage from the visions, as well as its Split and blinding abilities, can make the creature stronger than it seems on paper. You may wish to adjust its attack’s acid damage mid-encounter, depending on how much health players lose to the hallucinations.
15 – The party comes to a fissure they must cross, but a swarm of beasts sleeps nearby, threatening to wake at every sound.
Coming to another opening that cuts through the tunnel, the party finds a large subterranean chasm. The earthen tear stretches into darkness on either side, with the opposite edge and tunnel only barely visible. The travelers cannot see how deep it runs as they peer over the edge where the shattered remains of a rope bridge now hang. Investigating the area shows no clear way across. They must create one. But it is during this investigation that they notice a large cluster of creatures, slowly swaying and twitching. They are wrapped in leathery wings, with clawed feet holding them in place as they sleep, adjusting in response to every sound the party makes. The adventurers must make it across, but can they do it without waking the swarm?
This is, in reality, a very simple cave encounter. Players must overcome an obstacle through their own ingenuity and preparedness, with the risk of falling if their plan goes wrong. We make it more interesting by including the sleeping monsters. This puts pressure on players to think more critically and limits them from simpler solutions to the puzzle. Similar to the creatures in Encounter 11, these have evolved to possess extremely sensitive hearing. Verbal components, rough use of tools, or simply slipping could wake them. They can be killed, of course, but the chance of falling into the fissure should make players hesitant about direct engagement.
Unlike other environmental obstacles we have written in the past, this cave encounter gives the players little to work with. The tunnel will not have the same available resources as in a forest or even desert, meaning the solution must come from the players. Less than half of the old, rickety bridge will remain. This is a good way to reward players who are prepared for the environment, and encourage them to do so later. Try not to worry about the possibility of players not finding a solution. We find that a table will always manage something, even if it means climbing to the bottom of the fissure and then back up the other side. Ultimately, it simply comes down to the risks they are willing to take, how creatively they can approach the problem, and how much time it takes the characters.
The creatures will wake if a stealth (or another appropriate skill) check rolls lower than their passive perception. You can use any bat-like monster but our favorite choice for this cave encounter is stirges. Their extremely low hit points and manageable damage let us use a large number of them, arranged in groups for the sake of initiative management. Better yet, you can give them the abilities of a giant spider to make them even more disgusting than they already are! A rechargeable Web, along with Web Sense and Web Walker, is a great way to add another element to a traversal encounter. They become more disruptive and dangerous to the party in a way that doesn’t involve just throwing players to their death. The most creative of parties could even find a way to use the web to their advantage.
16 – A young woman’s ghost still haunts the cave in which she died. She enacts her revenge on anyone that abandons her, as her lover once did.
The underground tunnels are prone to cave-ins, leading to paths changing over time as some are covered and others are opened. Stories of those trapped by falling rocks are common. Some are mercifully crushed by the stones while others are left to suffocate and starve. One such victim was a young elven woman, traveling with her partner. A collapse separated them, trapping her and injuring him. He did what he could to assuage her terrified screams and sobs, promising to find help and return. But he never did. She was left to slowly wither and waste as her fear evolved into vengeful scorn. This hatred persists, sustaining her spirit long beyond her untimely death. It still haunts the caves, luring travelers with the cries of a lost soul.
This cave encounter presents your party with another moral decision. As they travel, they will hear the cries of someone trapped behind fallen stones. The sounds will echo from some ways off the path, down a tunnel directly to their side. They must detour to help. This is where the decision comes in, determining how the encounter will play out.
If your party helps, they will follow the echoes to a cave-in. Clearing the stones will open a chamber containing the woman’s long-rotted skeleton and belongings. Her ghost will manifest as a ragged version of herself, speaking in distant, broken tones. Have her confusedly note that they helped her, before asking for a final favor: to meet her beloved again. This can mean either taking her necklace to an old man in the next town or bringing him to the skeleton. Either option will result in the bitter elder breaking down in guilt, asking the party to leave him. As they do, they will hear the woman’s scream, and then the man’s.
This encounter relies on a degree of worldbuilding and this path emphasizes that further. Players should be warned of frequent tremors and cave-ins before they enter the tunnels. This creates a link in their minds once the encounter occurs, and can also be used for other encounters. Even better, you can have these warnings come from the man himself. He will initially seem like a crotchety old local living close to the cave entrance but players will discover the deeper meaning after encountering the ghost. She can explain her story and he can add to it when meeting the party the second time.
The other option is for players to ignore the calls or deny helping the ghost. Either of these will lead to the screams continuing while growing in intensity. They will grow to be deafening as the party moves further away. The ghost will eventually appear as, you guessed it, a banshee. You can spruce her up by using the echoing cave walls. Her Wail’s range might be increased or you can give her a secondary scream with different effects depending on proximity to the spirit. Be creative and make full use of the environment.
Deciding on rewards for some cave encounters can be difficult. In this case, you can have the ghost ask the party to take her necklace one she rests (or have the banshee wearing it!). The couple were traveling on an adventure when she died, and this way she can continue to travel. The wearer of the necklace can cast Thunderwave once per day (DC 13), conjuring the sound of her scream and stunning creatures that fail the save by five or more.
17 – The party saves another group from a giant spider but they did not all make it out unchanged.
The party, having saved and allied with a group that was harvesting spider eggs, are becoming suspicious of their new compatriots. Neither side can fully trust the other. That is to be expected, but there is something more. One of them comes across as too insistent on the protection of the eggs, deflecting any questioning on the subject. Tensions only grow once they wake to a hatched egg and bite marks on another member. He seems fine and claims no pain, though healing for the venom is administered. But he then begins to act erratically. They are only a day from their destination when the situation hits a fever pitch and those that were bitten show their true colors.
This cave encounter uses slow-building horror themes to manipulate tension over several days of travel. The extended time frame means that events can be changed drastically by player actions, meaning you need to understand what is happening behind the scenes. This lets you focus on character motivations, adjusting actions as circumstances change.
Your party will hear calls for help and cries of pain from a nearby tunnel, which will lead them to a spider’s lair. The beast has caught a group of armed men and their empty cart and is moments away from eating them. This spider is not the encounter’s focus so feel free to simply use a phase spider. What is important is to include a human aspect in its description. But don’t overdo it! Keep it simple and horrifying, such as one pair of eyes appearing human or noticeable human teeth within its mouth. Once it is dead, the party can cut its victims down.
The other group should be friendly and thankful to the party. Keep their numbers low, four at most, so that you can put effort into playing each one differently. They will return to their business of harvesting spider eggs, explaining to players that they are a delicacy that few risk harvesting. But a nearby mayor is throwing a party and would pay a small fortune for them. This conversation will lead to the group negotiating a portion of that money as payment for the party’s protection. They are headed in the same direction, so why not?
Here is where your focus shifts onto controlling background events. See, this breed of magical spider does not reproduce on its own. They implant themselves into other creatures and take control. The host slowly changes to resemble the giant spider the party killed, all while being driven to infect others and protect the eggs. And one of the men was infected. This will mean him working in the background to hatch eggs and have them implant into his friends, then the destination town.
Playing this out means having multiple clues slowly appear. Let the first day play out normally so that players are comfortable and foster a rapport with the group. The second night can then see an egg hatch and another of them be infected. Follow this trend, with events growing worse and the infected acting more erratically and defensively. Play them like every movie character that hides a zombie bite, only with a burning insistence on finishing their job. You can also include other encounters during the travel to distract players, show the passage of time, and give the infected moments to act without being seen.
This cave encounter’s conclusion is, unfortunately, up to your players. The goal is to have their suspicions and conversations lead to a confrontation. This could come from the poachers accusing the party for what is happening, realizing the truth, or even all being infected. Tensions will culminate in combat if the players threaten the eggs. The infected will show their new forms, with multiple eyes and mandibles appearing. You can play them as ghouls with the additional abilities of the phase spider and their paralysis venom swapped for poison. There is also the chance of there being no confrontation, in which case the party will receive a tidy sum of gold for delivering the eggs. Meanwhile, you’ll gain the opportunity to use a spider-infested town not long after!
18 – Fiery monsters from deep beneath the earth have found their way up and are attacking travelers.
Not all of the caves are stone and darkness. Some descend far enough to breach into realms of fire and magma. These places give birth to strange creatures, composed of the very heat that fills their tunnels and possessing a burning proclivity for violence. And sometimes these monsters dig their way towards the surface. It is a swarm of these elementals that has found its way into the caves and attacked travelers. The adventurers first see signs of these attacks in scorched carts and corpses. As they investigate, sections of the walls begin to superheat and melt, monstrous creatures clawing their way out.
As described, this cave encounter will begin with players finding the remnants of an attacked cart. The broken wood and metal are largely burned and bear marks from fiery claws and teeth, as well as the charred bodies of any victims. This can otherwise appear to be a trader or traveler’s cart, or perhaps the property of a mage or order of knights, who were transporting the fiery creatures. In this case, include cages that were clearly broken from the inside, with melted or exploded bars. The party can then find some extra carts, perhaps those that tried to flee during the attack, before they stumble across the current victims. Just don’t overdo it as you don’t want players to simply turn around and leave.
The final cart will still be burning, casting a small amount of light down the tunnel. Players will see this from a distance before noticing the small figures scampering across it. They will look roughly like humanoid children, but move like beasts as they tear the vehicle apart and kill any survivors. Here is where you can have some extra fun, too. The party will only see a few of them on the cart. There are others, however, lurking nearby. Depending on stealth checks, you can include others on the cave’s walls and ceiling, or within the walls themselves. Once those on the cart notice the party, their vicious cries will alert the others.
But what are these creatures, you ask? Magmins, with some magma mephits as their winged cousins. Their battle cry will engage their Ignited Illumination, giving players a clear view and lighting the cave before they animalistically rush the party. On initiative 20 of each round, you can roll for a number of reinforcements as sections of stone begin to ignite and melt. Roll initiative for the new additions and have them appear on their turn.
It is important to note that the creatures’ Death Bursts and burning effects make them much more dangerous than their CR might suggest. Be very careful with balancing unit numbers and how often players will need to douse the flames. You might wish to include other survivors to help the party and bail them out, even just as a backup plan. This can even develop into everyone escaping in order to regroup and mount a counterattack against the fire elemental behind for the attacks.
19 – A black fog fills the cave, distorting time and space for more than just the party.
Naught but darkness lies beyond the party’s torchlight. Even those with enhanced vision can only see so far before a pure wall of shadow swallows the caves. The lack of natural light is suffocating and maddening. Monotonous black dulls their senses as they move. The adventurers hardly notice when it grows closer. Their lights begin to dim as the shadows creep forth in a dark fog, consuming them before they can react. It hides everything beyond a few feet. They reach out for each other and find nothing, but can still hear each other’s voices… and more. There are other people trapped in the mist, calling and searching. But something else is wrong. These people and their stories are not possible in what the party has seen, and something seems to stalk them from the shadows.
This cave encounter is all about taking the darkness and claustrophobia of caves and cranking it up to eleven. Taking inspiration from Stephen King and Joe Hill’s ‘In the Tall Grass’, the shadows of the mist will cover the party and distort space and time. This lets us play with spacing during combat while having fun with horror elements. The shadows are also a great way to turn a single unit into a threat to the entire party.
Fortunately, introducing this encounter is quick and clean. During travel, the shadows will grow closer before rushing forward like a torrent of fog. At first it will seem like the Darkness spell, except players with a light source or darkvision will be able to see in a radius of five feet. From here, you can shift into the narrative aspects. The general idea is that there is a pregnant couple caught in the mist, who the party will encounter over different time periods. Their child, born within the phenomenon, will also appear throughout his lifespan. But the years of darkness have twisted him and he will attempt to deceive and attack the party. This is the basis for your combat elements.
The specific mechanics of the cave encounter are important to keep in your mind as it plays out. The fog removes any need for a map, but you still need to manage player positions. For the sake of the game, we will not be shifting players around time-wise. But we can play with spacing. You want sound to act normally, but movement should be changed by a consistent set of rules. An example is by having player movement actually carry them ten times the distance they think, causing them to overshoot targets. You can make it more interesting by applying separate rules to different movements, such as reversing their east-west movement. The effect being magical gives plenty of freedom but be sure to keep these rules consistent. You want the party to be able to use in-character callouts to slowly figure it out.
Ideally, your narrative reveals should come slowly and in an order that has the players realize the truth. Have a player first meet the couple after the child’s birth, frantically searching for their son. Meanwhile, another party member can find the son. These characters will be panicked and erratic, and strangely cannot be heard by those that can’t see them. The party will need to fight to stop them from running back into the fog. Other versions players can meet are the son in his teens, the couple during their pregnancy, and then the bodies of the couple. You can even place these randomly in the fog and have them occur when players stumble across them, building the narrative organically.
The combat opponent is actually very easy to control. Unbind the child’s adult persona from the fog’s distortion, allow him to see through it, and otherwise treat him as a spy or assassin. He will stalk the characters and strike whenever he can gain advantage, then slink away without retaliation. When he is either defeated or forced into a retreat, he can take the fog with him. It will clear and release the party in the same place they were, only now with the couple’s skeletons beside them.
20 – The tunnel brings the party into a giant’s abode. They are like mice against the colossal furniture, and the exit is on the opposite side of the room.
Traveling through the deepest tunnels they have known, the adventuring party spots an opening ahead of them. The tunnel suddenly ends, with a flat, open plain of stone extending beyond. Heavy, distant tremors shake the tunnel as they cautiously approach. The realization stuns them as they reach the opening, peering in as well as reading roughly scrawled warnings around the cave. Beyond their tunnel is a room, gargantuan in size and decorated with similarly enormous, stone furniture. A colossal giant sits not far from the entrance, its head cocked at the sound of movement.
Of course, we saved the strangest for last. Cave encounters give us the opportunity to use monsters and problems that other environments simply couldn’t accommodate. Their hidden and secluded nature means that you don’t need to think as much about their influence extending beyond the encounter or immediate region. Because sometimes you just want them to be weird and fun. In this case, we are using the home of a particularly large stone giant.
This isolation gives us a great deal of design freedom. The giant might be a recluse, happy to live in their home deep under the earth or within a mountain. Or the room that the party passes through might connect to a larger settlement or fortress. You are free to limit the encounter as a once-off occurrence or have it tease a larger giant presence for later use. In the latter case, consider having any nearby settlements make mention of giants to better integrate them into your world and avoid the encounter feeling random without explanation. The warnings your party finds during the encounter will add to this. The room itself should be decorated realistically for its purpose, complete with the giant’s mess and personalization. Design it as a living area, not an encounter’s battlefield.
Speaking of your giant, we would advise scaling them up too. Stone giants are ‘huge’, making them roughly three times the height of a medium character. Your players should feel like mice in the room, so consider doubling or even tripling (or more!) the giant’s size. Keep in mind that the larger the players are by comparison, the easier they are to see.
The tunnel that passes through the giant’s room exists prior to the party, so include some scrawled warnings as they approach. Most will be of the regular ‘turn back’ and ‘only death awaits’ variety, though some others might include advice for future groups. They should vary in both language and tone. One at the very entrance might read, “be careful of gia-” with a dark red smear leading away. Ideally, the combination of clues and general perception should allow your party to see the exit tunnel before entering the room. This lets you place it on a giant-sized bookshelf without it feeling cheap, as players have all the time they need to plan.
Once the encounter begins, it is up to players to take control. Your job, aside from handling their actions, is to control the giant. You can have players move in a regular turn order if you need to monitor their individual speeds and decisions. Be sure to include skill checks whenever appropriate, most of which will be to avoid making noise. If they are breezing through the room, consider having the giant move to do something else, putting it in a new position that sees players recalculate. Finally, if it does notice them, it will try to crush them like pests. The giant can grab its club and begin ruthlessly hunting for them, forcing your players to either rush or create distractions.
And with that, the tunnel opens into clear air and our cave encounters are concluded. Next will be a guide on how to run cave adventures to make the most of the environment. Until then, we’d love to know what you thought of our encounters! If you have any other ideas or stories of your own, please leave a comment. Your feedback helps us create more and better content in the future.
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