Josiah and I arrived at Lava Beds National Monument (not far from the border of Oregon and California) five hours or so before Telecanter and his friend Marcus. Since I knew it'd be a while before they arrived, I thought we should scout out one of the caves I’d been thinking of as a good prospect for a session location based on previous visits. It's called Sunshine cave, so named because of a ceiling collapse and small skylight about 150’ into it. For a sense of the place above this cave, here’s a panoramic picture. A hundred years ago, the entire area was covered with trees and was described then as “nearly impregnable.” In 1920 they burned down, and today it's high desert - very hot during the day, and chilly at night this time of year.
Sunshine cave looked ideal, but we explored a couple of other short and easy caves and were lucky to stumble into Telecanter and his friend near the visitor center since mobile phones rarely work in the area. Coincidentally, they’d also parked right next to us at the campground. We thought we were in site B3, but a ranger came around and informed me that I’d mislabeled the payment envelope and we were actually in site B2. Very auspicious!
We all went out and explored a few more caves and then went back to camp and made some dinner. We shared a few beers and got to know one another better - among other things discussing the OSR scene, our gaming histories, etc. I'd brought Telecanter a few token gifts and he had thought to do the same thing - very generously giving both of us a number of lead minis as well as some Gamescience dice for Josiah and a copy of S.B. Poag's Exquisite Corpses for myself.
The next morning we rolled up some Swords & Wizardry characters. Josiah opted to use his elf character from one of our own previous games. We generated some hilarious hirelings using Telecanter’s roll-all-the-dice chart - mine consisted of a 40-something feeble woman with giant frizzy hair (I named her “Afria”) who had to care for her blind old father named Baté. A blind old man for a hireling! Later, I tied the two of them together with a rope so he wouldn’t get lost or left behind - at least he’d be able to carry something for us. In the picture below, we’re inspecting a game map of the larger area where we’ll be playing.
After checking out a couple more caves, we went looking for Juniper Cave. On a previous visit I’d seen a large skylight/roof collapse there which I thought would make for an easier time gaming. This cave was much longer and more difficult than the others we’d so far explored. There were some very tight squeezes in this one.
In this cave, we even discovered that we’d become lost and gone in a complete circle - at one point, I looked down at something reflecting in my flashlight and saw that I’d come upon my character card which had fallen out of my back pocket the first time through.
I was glad we'd gotten lost actually, or I'd have never found it. After an hour or so, we eventually found the spot I’d been thinking of - it was pretty bright there, just as I'd remembered. We jumped right into the game.
While Telecanter stood there DM’ing, a bat flew behind him a few times up and down the corridors (we thought of you, bat!) He did some great voices of an old man and his autistic (or perhaps just “touched”) son and hilariously reached out and grabbed my arm as the old man died. Below, I think I might be trying to figure out what to do with the old man’s son and dying request that I take care of him.
After a while we decided to leave this cave and head back to camp for an intermission. It felt like we played for two or three hours in there to me, but it’s really hard to say. After a bite to eat, we went to Sunshine cave - this one was really a little more suited to the game and we totally lost track of time in there. Some pictures are below - even though it looks bright, it’s only because of the camera’s flash (you can see the flashlights are all turned on). Taking decent pictures underground is difficult - there’s little for perspective, and it either looks totally bright with flash or else you can’t see anything, or get blurry pictures with slow shutter speeds. Telecanter was seated on a rock directly beneath the skylight, so he had a kind of spotlight on him. I’m not sure how easily he could see us but we had our flashlights on the whole time at this location. We joked about rolling dice down the incline to him.
Though we never entered into combat, the role playing was great (terrific acting and voices from the DM as a blacksmith and farmer’s son too). I’m glad to have been able to play alongside Josiah instead of being his DM this time - he nearly got the party and his character into trouble a couple of times, and as player I was able to gently help guide him and remind him of the usefulness of asking others for their opinions about what course of action to take.
The caves were generally very cool and comfortable (once you could sit down) since it was so hot above ground, but eventually we all noticed that it was starting to get a bit colder. We checked the time, and realized we’d been there probably a few hours and also that we’d better leave quickly. The road we were on had a gate a ways down the road that was locked by rangers at a certain hour, and we didn’t want to have to walk all the way back to our campground and carry additional gear there.
Back at camp, we decided that we’d better go to town to get some gas for Telecanter’s car - it was almost empty, and we were a little worried that he might not be able to make it back to town. So we took both cars and headed back - the first tiny town only had a single fuel pump in it. I thought I’d put a little gas in my own car - once I got about $10 or so in, the pump started acting like it was empty. I got the rest of my money back and Telecanter was able to get just over a gallon more out of the pump before it ran dry… Enough to get to the next town where there was a proper gas station. So we went there, fueled up, and figured we might as well pick up burgers while we were there. We had a few more beers that night, got up early the next morning, and went to a couple more caves on our way back to the highway.
The first was Skull Cave, named for the numerous animal bones found there when first discovered. It’s the deepest of all the caves we visited, with year-round ice at the bottom - it also has a nice little Gandalf-“You shall not pass!”-bridge. The entrance is gigantic and it really looks like a dragon’s lair. I’ll do another post with some more cave entrance photos to add to the collection I posted earlier here.
We'd had a great time and said our goodbyes, and agreed that it would be fun to try to finish out the adventure we’d started via Skype. I’m looking forward to it, especially as my other games are on hold for a few more weeks. Overall the whole venture was a great success. My original idea that actually gaming in caves would be tremendously inspiring was correct - I think our imaginations were running wild as we (literally) crawled the caves. I can't do the experience justice in writing here and hope we can do it again sometime, there or in a similar setting. As I said a couple posts back, anyone's free to contact me if they're interested in a "next time." There's always your own corner of the world for D&D'ing in the wild. I highly recommend it.
Preparing to Descend
4 hours ago