Caves. They’re dark, ominous, and oftentimes full of monsters and treasure. They’ve been a staple of fantasy and tabletop role-playing games for decades. For one of the best inspirations of them all, look to The Hobbit. Afterall, it is where Bilbo found the One Ring to Rule them All and the company of Thorin Oakenshield discovered swords.
“These swords were not made by any troll. Nor were they made by any smith among men.”
When it comes to caves and caverns there are several types to explore. The most standard as defined by the Dictionary is: a hollow in the earth, especially one opening more or less horizontally into a hill, mountain, etc. While a cavern is defined as a hollow in the earth, especially one opening more or less horizontally into a hill, mountain, etc.
Beginning with the typical cave seems like a great starting point. If the party is low level, a cave is just the place to start any adventure. They may encounter a bear and its cubs and may have to sneak around them without a fight. Skyrim utilizes this concept within the first few minutes of starting the game.
For this type of cave, consider “What the Goddess of Death has Touched” from Pillars of Eternity II. Don’t worry about the name of the track as it isn’t as sinister as it sounds. Composer Justin E. Bell presents an ominous dark tone perfect for spelunking. Sentences like ‘droplets of water drip from the ceiling onto the ground around you. Stepping across the uneven stone floor your foot slips into a shallow puddle causing pebbles to shift and loosen beneath your boot’ can really enhance the atmosphere as well.
Caverns typically feature rocky, uneven walls made up of jagged shale or stone. They’re also rather mysterious and can hold many secrets and unknown creatures with the most secretive ones leading to cult lead rituals and demon summoning.
“The Enduring Pride” from The Order 1886 by Jason Graves is a gloomy set dressing for any cavern adventure. It’s a bit more haunting in nature and builds slowly with time until climaxing with dramatic chanting. Chilling moans and voices drive the piece along and spine tingling strings really make it feel all Temple of Doom like.
The MMO World of Warcraft certainly has plenty of caves to delve into but “Crystalsong” stands out from the norm here. It’s magical and mystical in nature; featuring chimes and bells that are meant to remind us of crystals or diamonds. This track is best built as a backdrop for when the party comes across a cavern full of gold, gems, or wealth. Perhaps they’ve just slayed a dragon and its hoard of treasure is in the next room.
The Elder Scrolls is another great source of inspiration when it comes to music. Skyrim is a game we’ve put many hours into and the soundtrack is a constant companion in and out of the game. “Silent Footsteps” by Jeremy Soule has a bit of everything from our other choices. It’s an all around great pick no matter if the party is going to rest, sneak, or hide in a cave.
Many of these tracks can actually be used in place of exploration or travel as well. These are just some of the best we’ve used when diving into caves, monster lairs, and the Underdark. Cavern music basically comes down to great big sound, ominous tones, some chanting for darker areas, and strings. Plenty of strings.
For more tracks built for caving, consider Pillars of Eternity’s “The Endless Paths”, “Eothas”, and “All Gods.”