I don’t have any great gift for rendering a visual description in my GMing narration – I can get the idea across, but really making players feel, smell, or taste the fetid stench of this week’s dungeon is just not something I do well. Among other things, this is because I run very low prep games and I don’t have a particularly high-definition audiovisual imagination. The point I’m getting at here is that I really like this image of a cave-mouth from inside, but my cave entrances always seem to be plain gaps in an otherwise vertical rock surface. Examining this image and fixing it in my mind with a description – i.e., the rest of this post – might teach me something. Even better, it might entertain you, O my faithful and eminently discerning reader.
“Entrance to the Heaven” taken by Emilio Labrador, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I’m going to make myself write three different descriptions (and therefore adventuring uses) of the image. The descriptions assume pauses for PCs to confirm that they’re moving forward along the available route, and to inquire for details.
The Descent Begins
You descend the rocky defile with care, and there you see a cave-mouth: an opening 20 feet high and nearly twice that across. In the golden afternoon sun that streams down through the trees, it is hard to imagine that it is the home to any dangerous thing. You stand on the edge of the cave-mouth, with a four-foot drop down to a mound of boulders. The stones form a steep downward slope from there. The walls of the cave all around you hold countless shadowy nooks and crannies, as well as deeper recesses. This chamber of the cave is warmed and lit by plenty of sunlight, and only noticeable smell – other than the forest you’re leaving behind – is dry dust. Ahead of you, the light diminishes. The only way forward is a hard right turn that forces you to crawl under a massive outcropping, into total darkness.
Now With 100% More Foreboding
Your pack animals balked two miles back, so you left them in the care of one of your followers, shouldered your packs, and covered the rest of the distance on foot. The light is thin and gray as you pick your way down into the ravine. As you peer into the cave-mouth, the shifting light behind you suggests – or hides – motion behind the rocky outcroppings along the sides of the sharply descending passage. As you enter, the rocks teeter and slip under your feet, and you slide halfway down the slope into a deep shadow, spilling gear from your packs. Looking up and back, sunlight is all but gone.
The End of the Tunnel
There is a hint of light ahead. It is weak, scant light, but it comes from no torch, lantern, or mage-light. You pick your way from stone to stone and squeeze through a keyhole passage, the reflected light grows from a glimmer to a steady glow, golden upon the stone. Your ruined clothes and the constant dragging weight of your fatigue seem to matter less in its warmth, but it also reveals the blood on your hands, on your blades, and matting your hair – some dried, more of it fresh. Your hands suffer new cuts and scrapes as you scrabble up the steep slope to toward the sun, but each yard you gain puts another looming shadow behind you. You emerge at last into the full light of morning, squinting like moles and dragging your battered packs behind you.
As is often the case in this blog, credit for the Photo Friday idea goes to Wendy Holler.