All GMs Must See This

What a dungeon is really like...

My wife has an uncanny ability to make staggeringly good Netflix choices. I've learned to trust her judgement in this. I mean, I'm responsible for bringing Knowing into our home, so my credibility is highly suspect.

The Descent
The Descent (2005)

Last week's pick was The Descent (2005). Never heard of it. It's about 6 chicks in a cave. It's dark and they freak out. Sounds iffy, but there's a cave, so that's cool.

About 40 minutes in, the movie turns into a dungeon crawl. Very cool, and I'm now watching with my Chimera Goggles. My wife triumphs again.

All GMs must see this because it shows you what scampering about in a cave is really like. It's dark. It's cramped. It's wet and slimy. Did I mention that it's dark? There are cliffs, pits, deadfalls, pools of stagnant disgusting water. There are bones. Not one gold piece. Just an old rusted helmet left behind by some poor sod who presumably never made it back to the surface.

Ever run a group of characters through a cavern? They're swinging swords, have all the rope in the world, and probably didn't bother to mention that they're lighting like 20 torches because otherwise they can't see a damn thing. Plus, if they're wounded, they don't worry about stuff like climbing, crouching, irregular floors, and bones protruding out of their shins.

But in terms of cave geography, The Descent does a good job of conveying the claustrophobic conditions. There are a few large caverns, but most of the shots are narrow and very irregular passages where walking upright is not an option. Check this to see what I mean:

Oh, yeah. Did you see that creepy dude at 1:20? Just your bog-standard caveman adapted to living two miles underground. They're called crawlers, and they do awful things to the party. If you were playing Chimera, they'd look something like this:


descent crawler

Crawler (Lvl 1)
Movement Rate: 12±1d6
Wound Limit: 3
Defence: 0 (+2)
Abilities: Athletics +2, Fight +1, Observe +2, Sneak +4, Spelunking +4
Attacks: 1 bite +1 (IM +1, Dmg 1d6); 2 claws +1 (IM +1, Dmg 1d6)
Special: Hypersensitive, Imp. Nimble, Quick Draw, Wallwalker
Resistance: +1
Surprised: 9
Morale: 15
Alignment: Chaotic
Frequency: Rare (1d10+10)

Crawlers are a race of caveman fully adapted to life underground. They possess animal intelligence and communicate to each other via throat clicks and grunts; these convey only rudimentary messages (e.g., attack, food, danger, time to mate, etc.). Hairless and devoid of pigmentation, crawlers are entirely blind and have a poor sense of smell, though they can "see" via echolocation, much like a bat; they are highly sensitive to sound and are surprised only if an opponent's Sneak roll is a Critical Success.

Crawlers live in small clans within labyrinthine cavern networks, occasionally venturing to the surface at night to hunt. In their element, crawlers are able trackers (via Spelunking Ability) and will attempt to split up intruders and "herd" individuals into ambush sites. For this purpose, crawlers can traverse vertical or inverted surfaces at their full movement rate. All clan members fight, and there is always one dominant male who leads by force (stats as above, save WL 4, DF 1 (+2), and Fight +2).

The race is rare and found only in isolated wilderness areas. It's supposed that they are remnants of early humans whose development lead them deep underground, where they evolved into degenerate animals. Crawlers neither use nor fashion tools of any sort—no armour, no weapons, no simple machines, not even fire. They possess nothing of value save for what might lie discarded among the bones in their refuse pits.

Some Other Cave Notes

When your character is in a cave, the GM will tell you if you have room to stand or not. If not, then movement is limited to your creeping rate. Movement is further restricted by armour bulk: Medium armour is MR -1 and Heavy armour is MR -2. In combat, any shield or weapon-based parry bonus is negated and attacks are limited to unarmed or Small weapons only.

Narrow passages are difficult to traverse, and at the GM's option, you may need an Athletics roll to get through them (at best, consider them Difficult (TN 12) for such purposes, penalized by armour bulk as above). Failure indicates that you can't proceed; a Critical Failure means you're stuck and require the aid of comrades to get free (or perhaps another Athletics roll with a Critical Success if you're on your own). A Spelunking roll may be substituted for characters who are good at caving.

Visibility is severely limited. In a narrow passage, any light source penetrates no more than 1" in any direction (a successful Observe roll doubles this, while a Spelunking roll quadruples it, though the twisting nature of a given passage might block line of sight). Unless you're checking the route ahead, you run the risk of falling in any pit, chasm, or pool that may be in your path. Avoiding these almost always requires gear (rope, pitons, spikes, etc.), so the GM must enforce gear checks for both light sources and caving equipment (qualified characters may make gear checks with the Spelunking Ability).

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