Dwarven Forge Caverns Deep Buyer's Guide

by Mike Shea on 30 July 2018

As of 27 March 2020, the Cavern's Deep Kickstarter has been fully delivered and the pieces are now available on the Dwarven Forge Website. You can find the Kickstarter guide at the bottom of this article. Up top is a buyer's guide for Cavern's Deep pieces which you can, sometimes, find in the Dwarven Forge store.

Having now had many Cavern's Deep sets in hand and used them in games, I can give my hands-on recommendations. This comes with the continuing caveat that, while I love Dwarven Forge, it isn't necessary to run great D&D games. Great games aren't about the terrain, they're about the stories you share with your friends. If this high-end D&D stuff makes you question what you need to run great games, remember that great games don't need to cost anything at all. If you want to improve your game, there are many things you can do to improve it for free that will have a much bigger impact than the accessories you buy.

That said, Dwarven Forge makes beautiful stuff. If one were to want to dive into Cavern's Deep, here are the sets I found to be the most practical and fun.

The Basics: Starter Set, Trifecta Set, Cliff Set

The Cavern's Deep set is a more complicated and expensive set than the Dungeon of Doom, my favorite Dwarven Forge set. Cavern's Deep doesn't have a clear set of three pieces like the walls, corners, and floors of the Dungeon of Doom. This is mainly because caverns need to look organic and this organic look requires a lot of different-shaped pieces.

The closest we can come to basic common pieces are in the following three sets:

These three sets work well together to build beautiful organic caverns with the cliffs adding elevation to the mix. You can use the trifecta pieces for negative-space builds or put them together for complementary walls, corners, and floors with the starter set.

You'll want at least two of each set to build out good-sized caverns. Three or four of each (which runs close to $1,000 at this point) can build a wide array of multi-room caverns. If you don't need the elevation you can skip the cliff sets but they really are wonderful sets to have.

There are many other pieces in the Cavern's Deep collection not included in these three sets but, in my experience, these three sets offer the widest flexibility and the biggest bang per piece.

Elevation: Stilts and Terrain Trays

Terrain trays are the biggest improvement to Dwarven Forge since they started making pieces out of Dwarvenite years ago. Terrain trays let you build out entire 12" rooms and then store them to use for later without having to tear them down.

Caverns deep added stilts to the mix which makes terrain trays even more useful. Now you can elevate large sections of your dungeon for very little money. They let you build two-tier and even three-tier dungeons with large footprints for not a lot of money.

Terrain trays and stilts work well with the cliff packs to build cool elevated caverns. I tend to prefer the terrain trays from the Dungeon of Doom which come in water and fire. The Cavern's Deep Terrain Tray Hazards are also pretty cool but that's a lot of terrain trays.

When you pick up the stilts, get two packs (20 stilts). They're really useful. You can buy them unpainted since they primarily hide underneath terrain trays and it will save you a few bucks.

Centerpiece Sets

With enough pieces to build out organic cavern encounter areas, it's time to look at some big set pieces. These pieces act as centerpiece of an encounter. They're the pieces that make builds unique and make players eyes open wide. There are many such pieces in Cavern's Deep but the following are the ones I loved the best:

Summoning Chamber. This full encounter set has a fantastic assortment of pieces to make your builds come alive. The entryway is a big wonderful entrance piece with LED sockets. The summoning circle can be used with a wide range of light-up pieces and includes a very cool summoning circle topper. Two large advanced-builder corner pieces will help ensure your builds stay organic. It also has enough bread-and-butter pieces to augment your basic builds.

Stalagmite Pack. This pack comes with a whole bunch of accessories that make your caverns look awesome. It has four "sin eaters", quarter-cut columns that you can stick into any right angles you have in your builds to make your build go from clunky to awesome. The two platforms are also wonderful stand-alone pieces that break up flat floors.

Stairway to Violence. A three-layered platform perfect for boss monsters and crazy altars. You can split it up into its two parts or join them together for a truly epic encounter.

Shrine of Skiss Ryssa. This pack of accessories includes a whole bunch of pieces that make a vanilla build look wild. The shamanic circle sits well on the stairway to violence. The magnetic chained circle and its accompanying free-standing magnetic wall is a great MacGuffin for an adventure.

Natural Bridge. The platforms and bridge in this pack can be used in many different ways. The bridge end pieces can be used as overhangs over endless pits or altars that sit above the rest of an area. This bridge has a lot of utility for building cool 3D encounters.

The Older Caverns Deep Kickstarter Guide

The remainder of this article is being kept for historical preservation.

The folks over at Dwarven Forge are right in the middle of their sixth Kickstarter for a new set of cavern-focused encounters and pieces called Caverns Deep. The Dwarven Forge folks reached out to me based on the guide I had put together last year for their Dungeon of Doom Kickstarter and asked that I put together a similar guide for getting the most out of your Caverns Deep Kickstarter Pledge. This article will take one view of how we can get the most adventure for our dollar for these amazing pieces.

Note that I'm publishing this article after the first week of the Kickstarter. The folks at Dwarven Forge continue to release new add-ons as the Kickstarter continues and I will update this article again before the end of the Kickstarter.

Please also note that I am being compensated for this article by the fine folks at Dwarven Forge. Know too that I've been a big fan and customer of theirs for more than a decade and will be backing this Kickstarter myself. Yes, I'm biased, but I really do love this stuff.

Dungeons & Dragons and the Price of Dwarven Forge

Before we head into the Caverns Deep, it helps to understand how Dwarven Forge fits into Dungeons & Dragons. Dwarven Forge is, in my opinion and the opinions of many, the best 3D terrain you can get for Dungeons & Dragons. The price, however, puts it out of the realm of possibility for many.

If the price is prohibitive for you, I have good news. Dwarven Forge is a wonderful accessory for D&D but it's not required. People can run awesome D&D games for hardly any money at all. The $20 D&D Starter Set or the free D&D Basic Rules are enough for a group of friends to share some fantastic stories together for a long time.

It's easier to think of Dwarven Forge as the titanium golf-clubs of D&D. They are not necessary to play but they sure grab attention at your D&D table.

Our goal in this article is to find the highest value pieces for the dollar—the pieces that will find the most use at our table and capture the most attention.

Kickstarters: Our Best Path to Dwarven Forge

Dwarven Forge Kickstarters are the best way to get into this hobby. With a substantial savings (at least in the US) for both shipping and taxes, discounted sets, and added stretch goal pieces thrown in; if one wants to get into Dwarven Forge, starting with their Kickstarters is a great way to go. In particular, this Kickstarter bakes their stretch goals into all of the relevant pledges or add-ons which is a big plus. Even the smaller pledges get some good stretch goal pieces.

That said, this campaign is more of an "advanced builder" campaign than the previous Dungeon of Doom campaign. This set heavily augments Dwarven Forge's second Kickstarter, the first Caverns Kickstarter, that focused on the primary building blocks of walls, corners and floors. This Kickstarter focuses more on the advanced pieces to make our rooms and corridors more fluid, dynamic, and detailed. This Kickstarter does, however, include a starter pack that can get new Dwarven Forge collectors started in their cave collections.

I personally choose to go for painted sets because I like to pull them out and use them out of the box. If you're crafty and familiar with painting miniatures or terrain and you have the spare time, you can save a lot by going with unpainted. The Dwarven Forge folks have some good paint tutorials up on Youtube if you decide to save a bunch of money and paint them yourselves.

Sacrificing Clarity for Flexibility

The Dungeon of Doom was a huge Kickstarter with new encounters and new add-ons being released every day. That said, it was relatively easy to see what you got with each of the encounters.

The Caverns Deep Kickstarter breaks things up to help backers get exactly what they want but at the sacrifice of clarity in the pledges. Nate Taylor, the creative director of Dwarven Forge, referred to this campaign as the "Caverns of Cherry Picking." They have the full expectation that people will pick and choose just the pieces they want from this Kickstarter. Because of this flexibility, there are numerous types of kits in this Kickstarter including pledge levels, encounters, adventure packs, core packs, universal packs, and miscellaneous packs. This can be quite confusing. I would worry less about the types of packs and, instead, choose exactly which packs you want that contain the pieces you will find most valuable at your game. That's what I've done in this guide.

It can be hard to know exactly which pieces you want, however. In this guide, we choose one philosophy and list of potential pledges but your own list might (and probably should) vary based on your own budget and your own desires. Some people love LED pieces (I'm one of them) while others want to focus on bread-and-butter pieces. Some love super-detailed and accurate pieces while others want walls, floors, and corners so they can build quickly.

Adding to this, the folks at Dwarven Forge have been adding new sets and add-on packs every day so far and will likely continue to near the end of the Kickstarter. This seems to add to the confusion but this often comes from the direct feedback of the backers, helping to build packs that better fit peoples' desires. It also means we can enjoy this Kickstarter every day instead of all at once, watching as new pieces come out.

Most importantly, prepare to do some research and cherry-pick the pieces that fit your budget and bring you the most value for your own game.

There are a couple of excellent spreadsheets made by some other industrious backers here and here that can show you exactly what pieces you get with which pledges. They're a couple of great planning tools.

Now let's talk about my own Dwarven Forge philosophy.

Big Meaningful Pieces

Anyone who gets into Dwarven Forge and spends some time with the pieces usually ends up building a personal philosophy towards them. This philosophy will change from person to person but I will give you mine, refined after over a decade of collecting and using Dwarven Forge pieces in my own D&D games.

I like big meaningful pieces. I like big pieces that I can drop on a table and instantly change an area. I like the big flashy pieces that make players go "wow". I want pieces that the characters can interact with. I want them pulling arcane energy out of glowing crystals, throwing bad guys into fiery pits, getting an advantageous shot when they climb a high tower, and falling into portals to the nine layers of hell.

This Kickstarter has some great big meaningful pieces. If one doesn't have any other cavern pieces, these big pieces look like they will work well in any sort of battle map, Dwarven Forge or not. Examples include the LED basalt floor from the summoning chamber adventure pack, the stairway to violence, the dwarven forge, and the stuff in the shrine of Skyss Ryssa adventure pack.

If you already have some previous cavern sets or if you're picking up any of the starter or core sets in this Kickstarter than there are some big pieces in this Kickstarter that look like they'll have some high value for our cavern setups. This includes the entrance riser, the corner curve, the corner entrance, the LED wall pack, and the 6x6 floor. These big pieces help you build out rooms quickly and with a lot of variety and are included in a few different sets.

Utility Versus Aesthetics

The various components of this Dwarven Forge cavern sets are, without a doubt, beautiful. One question we must keep in mind, however, is how often they will see use at our table? The ice set, for example, looks great, but how often do our characters fight in icy corridors? The glowing Mother of All Mushrooms is also awesome but how often will it land on the table?

These are hard questions we must ask ourselves to ensure that we're really getting a high value for the pieces we pick up. A 6x6 floor piece may not seem nearly as flashy as a giant glowing mushroom but we can drop that 6x6 floor in any big cavern room we build.

Mixing Your Media

While the Caverns Deep Kickstarter focuses on building small encounter environments, we can mix our media, using the stand-alone set-pieces in this Kickstarter with more traditional 2D maps, either hand-drawn on flip mats or using pre-printed flip mats like those published by Paizo for Pathfinder.

Freestanding walls can sit out to break up line of sight on a larger battle map. Elevation pieces can give characters and monsters higher ground from which to snipe foes. Glowing terrain, like the basalt floor or the dwarven forge, can sit in a larger map surrounded by chanting cultists while something horrible raises from the hellish portal. You'll see a full list of my favorite stand-alone centerpieces below.

Using Dwarven Forge pieces like this is also quick to set up so it works well for improvised areas. One can draw a sketch of an area and then drop a piece or two of Dwarven Forge to spice it up in just a couple of minutes.

When we're shopping for pieces in this Kickstarter, it helps to know what we already have in hand and how we typically build encounter areas already.

A Shopping List for Stand-Alone Centerpieces

On to our shopping lists. First, we'll start with these excellent stand-alone centerpieces pieces that look like they will work for just about any setup, including right on a flat battle map. I've listed these in my own priority order.

The Underdoom and Dreadhollow Forest sets likewise have numerous stand-alone options and are worth checking out.

Cavern Building Sets

Going beyond stand-alone pieces, we come to sets that actually build out full cavern areas. Building large rooms with this Kickstarter can get expensive quickly but rich and interesting small chambers and halls are within our grasp. We'll get the most from this Kickstarter's core pieces if we already have a bunch of cavern pieces from the second Dwarven Forge Kickstarter. After a lot of study I've come to a list of sets that I think contain the most interesting cavern pieces with an eye towards price at three price ranges.

Dan W. who goes by DW, Chancellor of Valoria on the Kickstarter's huge comment section, offers up that we can leave out one or two sides of walls when building out a room or chamber for a Starcraft-like setup that gives you a lot more potential surface area. That's a neat idea I haven't yet tried.

Mike's Personal Wish List (Updated 6 August)

So what am I actually going to order? Here's my own list in priority order. This list might certainly change before the end of the Kickstarter depending on what they announce. I'm mostly cherrypicking the specific pieces I want along with a cavern entrance set and a caverns starter set as my base pledge. Again, check back before the end of the Kickstarter to see how I've updated it.

More to Come

This Kickstarter is only about eight days in as this article is published, with almost two weeks to go. As the days move on, the landscape changes and so too might these recommendations. Keep an eye on this page to see what updates come in before the end of the Kickstarter.

Another Dimension for our Tabletop Fantasy Games

When I look at the pictures from this Kickstarter, it reminds me of the awesome set-pieces that Wizards of the Coast puts together for Chris Perkins's Acquisitions Incorporated games. Those hand-made sets take his games to a new level and, typically, we wouldn't have access to anything like that. Dwarven Forge stuff, however, gives us that access. It gives us modular terrain, hand sculpted by D&D nerds to let us build awesome tabletop setups for our D&D games.

This stuff isn't necessary to run a great game but, for those who can afford it, Dwarven Forge adds an entire new element to the games we enjoy. Give it a look and see if it's for you.

Special thanks to Teos Abadia, Shad Ross, Dan W., my wonderful wife, and the excellent folks at Dwarven Forge for their help and suggestions with this article.

Related Articles

If you enjoyed this article please take a look at Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, the Lazy DM's Workbook, and Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot.

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