This section comes from my unfinished and unpublished Gas-Lamp Fantasy Supplement, Beneath The Gas-Lamp World. At some stage I may get around to finishing the book. When I do, I will take this article off my WordPress site. Until then, it will stay up on this site.
The article below features some fictional caves in Wales. The caves first appeared in a Briggs and Prenderghast short story. When I began play-testing the Gas-Lamp Fantasy Game with some friends the scenario, included here, was one of those which I ran. Anyway, there is a brief description of these caverns, followed by a rough scenario which a GM may want to flesh out further.
Llanfern Gorge, Caves of
There is a massive and deep cave system beneath Llanfern Gorge in Wales. The cave system is extensive, going down many miles beneath the surface of the earth.
The cave system has phosphorescent strips here and there, by the light of which the inhabitants of the caves can see by. The phosphorescence comes from a form of algae unknown to science.
There are cave paintings deep in the caves, but the paintings are very primitive in design and execution. Most of the images of the paintings are of men clubbing other men. Animals are only featured on very few paintings, and tend to be limited to poor portrayals of sheep.
There are deep caverns with large pools and lakes beneath Llanfern. The pools have small, white, blind fish in them, and similar creatures.
In addition to algae, mushrooms and other fungi can be found in the caverns beneath Llanfern. None of the species of fungi are those found on the surface. There are seventeen different species of fungi in the caves, none of them yet described by science. The largest id a mushroom, pure weight, with a vague phallus-shape, which can grow to be one and a half feet to two feet tall. The fungus is edible, but is extremely bland, with hardly any taste at all.
The Troglodytes: The caves are occupied by a race of cannibals. These are a degenerate offshoot of Homo sapiens, who have been living in the caves since before Roman times. Despite the primitive appearance of the cannibals, they are not ogres, but men, although perhaps they should be considered to be a subspecies of Mankind, perhaps Homo sapiens troglodytes.
They have been abducting people for food for centuries. They are nocturnal, and only come out at night. It is possible that the entire group of troglodytes are descended from a single family who retreated beneath the surface of the world in the distant past.
Their eyes are large, with large pupils, and adapted to seeing in darkness. They cannot see in total darkness – there must be some light source, no matter how faint. The phosphorescent plants which grow on the walls of the caves are sufficient for the troglodytes to see by.
Their skin is very pale, and is the colour of milk.
The troglodytes file their teeth down to sharp points, to help them in their cannibalistic lives.
The troglodytes mostly use large stone clubs, which they use to batter people to death with. They also have flint knives which they use for stripping flesh off bones.
They do not only live on people – they would soon starve if they relied on what few people they could kidnap, as the people of Llanfern Gorge generally do not go outdoors during the hours of darkness. They capture what sheep they can from the surrounding farms. When members of the troglodytes get old and infirm they are killed and become the next item on the lunch menu.
The troglodytes, when they cannot get food from the world above, eat what food is available in the tunnels and caverns of their world. That food is mostly fungi, and small, blind albino fish to be found in underground pools.
Flora: Phosphorescent algae are found in these caves, along with fungi.
Fauna: Bats are found in these caves, as are small, blind white fish in the various underground pools and lakes.
Religion: The troglodytes have become so degraded that they do not seem to follow any religion at all, not even a Pagan one.
Legends: The troglodytes themselves do not have any legends, as they no longer bother to preserve their history, not even orally.
Magick: The troglodytes do not know any Magick. They do not even realise what it is.
Language: The troglodytes speak their own language, distantly related to, and descended from, Old Brythonic, which was spoken in Britain before splitting into separate languages, like Welsh and Cornish. The language has become very basic over the millennia, losing any nouns which do not apply to the troglodytes’ wretched existence.
Scenario: The Caves of Llanfern Gorge
The characters will be contacted by a farmer who lives in Llanfern, after archaeologists investigating the caves go missing.
What has gone before: Six archaeologists came to the caves, to investigate them, the belief of the lead archaeologists being that the caves had been used by Stone Age men to live in. The archaeologists tried to find local workers to assist them, but none of the locals would go anywhere near the caves. There were too many old legends concerning the caves.
The archaeological expedition was led by Miss Elspeth Farmer, and her younger brother, William. The other four archaeologists were Rupert Street, Edward Statham, Samuel Carlton, and Wilberforce Walton. All but Walton came from London; Walton came from Manchester.
The archaeologists were camping out at the caves. One night they went missing. But, because the local villagers tried to avoid the caves, nobody in the village realised that anything untoward had happened. It was only when a local farmer, by the name of Landor Evans, went into the gorge in search of a lost sheep, and he saw that the camp was deserted, and there were signs of a struggle, that he realised that something untoward had occurred.
Involving the characters: The characters will be contacted by Landor Evans. Exactly why he should contact the players is up to the Gamesmaster – he should have the reason fit in with his particular campaign. Maybe Landor Evans has heard of the characters’ heroic exploits in the past, and he thinks that these are the people for the job. Perhaps he is related to one of the characters. Maybe the letter asking for assistance was intended for somebody else, and is delivered to the characters by mistake.
Whatever the reason one of the characters will get a letter asking the characters to come to Llanfern Gorge and investigate what has happened to the missing archaeologists.
If one of the player characters possesses the skill Legends he may have some knowledge of the old tales concerning the caves of Llanfern Gorge. If he makes a success roll (21+) he may have heard that there is something bad about the caves, and that there have been tales of people going missing in the area for hundreds of years. If the character makes a success roll of 28+ he may have heard that the legends date back to the time of the Romans, and that people disappear because there are some sort of monsters living in the caves.
The village of Llanfern: Llanfern, about two miles away from Llanfern Gorge, is a small Welsh village. Unless the player characters have decided to camp in tents, there is only one place in which they will be able to say, and that is the Red Dragon public house.
The Red Dragon public house is very old-fashioned, like most of the houses in the village. It has not yet been fitted with gaslight, let alone electricity.
Lander Evans: At some stage, either after arriving, or booking into the public house, the characters may want to speak to Landor Evans, he who has summoned them to this place. During the day Landor Evans will be tending to his sheep. Anybody in the village will be able to tell the characters where the Evans farm is. It will then be up to the characters to find just where on his farm he is.
During the hours of darkness he will be in his farmhouse, along with his wife. Very few people in Llanfern venture outside during the hours of darkness.
Landor Evans is not a tall man, but he is broad shouldered, with a rubicund face, due to spending most of his life out of doors.
The caves: The caves are about a forty minute walk away from the village. The camp of the English archaeologists is in the valley. There are four tents for the six missing people. The tents are in a bad state, and a couple of them have had the cloth slashed open. Things in the tent will have been scattered far and wide. Anything edible is missing. But items which might be of worth, such as a theodolite, are still there, and have not been stolen.
The ground is hard, and there has not been any rain recently. A tracker will not be able to pick up much in the way of tracks, even with a good Tracking roll, apart from the fact that there are drag marks which appear to lead towards the caves.
Into the dark: It should be obvious to the player characters that the missing people have been dragged down into the caves (unless the players are particularly dense). The characters will need some sort of light if they are to investigate, whether torches, an ever-burning taper, or some sort of Magick spell.
As the characters descend into the depths of the earth the first thing which they will notice will be the bands of phosphorescence. The phosphorescence, however, is not enough for the characters to see by, as human eyes are not good enough in the dark (unlike the eyes of the troglodytes).
The characters will, a little later, as they continue to explore, discover cave paintings on the walls of some of the passages which they walk down. But the paintings are exceedingly crude, and feature humans, apparently, hunting and tracking other human beings. There will be the occasional image of a sheep. But these pictures are certainly not anything like the cave paintings of Lascaux.
The colours used for these cave paintings are black and red. If a player touches one which gleams, perhaps more than it should, will discover that the paint is still wet.
As the characters go deeper they will find that the passage splits, and that there is a whole warren of caves and passages down here. To find where the missing archaeologists have been taken will be a lot easier if one of the character’s can make a tracking roll. Or, if the Gamesmaster wants to help out the characters, he can have an occasional trail of drips of blood for the characters to follow.
The characters should start mapping once they realise that there is more than one passage leading down, otherwise they will risk getting lost – and these are not caves that a person wants to get lost inside.
Ambush!: Unless one of the character’s is a wizard who knows some spell which allows all of the characters to be able to see in the dark, then the characters will be using some sort of a light source. Which means, unfortunately, that the character’s light will be noticed.
The troglodytes, with their realm being invaded, will send some of their fighters to attack the characters. The Gamesmaster should not make this fight too lethal – it is only a taster for the main event, after all, and he should perhaps have one fewer troglodyte than player character.
The troglodytes will only be armed with stone clubs. They have no ranged weapons, and they do not use Magick. At least some of the characters should have firearms. The troglodytes, with their clubs, can be lethal, if they get into mêlée. Unless the characters are particularly inept, they should be able to wound these ambushers as they run in to attack.
The troglodytes do not really understand what guns are. But they will soon realise that they are outclassed. Attacking armed people is very different from attacking sleeping archaeologists.
The surviving, wounded troglodytes will run back towards one of the main living area of these troglodytes. All the characters will have to do is to follow them.
The Cave of Death: The characters, however they approach the cave, will have to enter the area. They may use subterfuge, or they might simply rush in. If at least one member of the troglodytes escaped the attack then all of the other troglodytes will be ready, and there will not be an element of surprise.
There will be more of the adult males in the cave. The Gamesmaster should make it a challenging fight for the players, as this is the climax of the scenario. Only the adult males of the troglodytes will fight – any children and women will run away, deeper down along the passages which lead into the bowels of the earth.
There are rough sleeping areas in the cave, made from clothes taken from the archaeologists, old sheepskins, and the like – whatever the troglodytes have been able to find which is more comfortable than sleeping on the bare stone of the cave floor. There is no fire, and no indication that these creatures no how to make fire. They eat their meat raw.
Hanging from the side of the cave, tied to jutting outcrops, is what is left of the bodies of the five male archaeologists. The bodies have been hacked to pieces, but they are still recognisable as the remains of human beings.
Tied to a stalactite-stalagmite (a calcium carbonate pillar from floor to ceiling) is the Miss Elspeth Farmer, the only one of the archaeologists still alive. She has a blank look on her face, probably the result that the troglodytes have kept her alive not to eat, but to bred with, a fate which she no doubt considers to be a fate worse than death.
All that the characters have left to do is to defeat the male troglodytes and rescue the one archaeologist who is left alive.
Afterwards: The characters may, after defeating the troglodytes who are in the cave, want to wreak their revenge by wiping out all of this cannibalistic race. But there are two reasons why they should be dissuaded from doing so.
The first reason is that any heroes should attempt to get Miss Elspeth Farmer out of there and back to civilisation, where she can be treated for the ordeal which she has been through.
The second is that heroes should not really go around committing genocide – and they don’t know just how deep the caves go. There might be a lot more groups of evil troglodytes down there.