Monday, 17 August 2020

[OSR] Real places in RPG [5]: Fingal's Cave

 Fingal's Cave

Fingal's Cave is a sea cave on the island of Staffa, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, which is uninhabitated and known for its natural acoustics. 

It is formed entirely from hexagonally jointed basalt columns, which are similar to the Giant's Causeway's (in northern Ireland).

The cave is named after the hero of an epic Poem by James Macpherson, and is supposed to have started building the giant's causeway between Ireland and Scotland.

"Fingal's Cave on Staffa - photo by dun_deagh (Flickr)


Our human relationship to caves has always been very dualistic: It was probably the first habitat where our ancestors took refuge, but it is also a place where one of our oldest enemy reigns quite undefeated: Darkness.

It is no wonder that our first instinct as a human when encountering a cave is to want to secure it, from wild animals, enemies, or even bad weather. 

Does our survival instinct want us to purge that dark place? Is that the reason why dungeon delving is so popular?


The Island of Staffa, belonging to Scotland, is unsettled.

Is it because of the Cave?

Is it unsettled or unsettled by humans?

What could live here?


My first association with this place was that it must be a troll's lair.

Probably a troll eating lots of fish, since there seem to be no source of mamals-meat in the vicinity...

But I imagine hardy settlers trying to conquer this island only to be gobbled by this ancient troll. Who amasses the belongings of the settlers in his cave... Which in turn brings more adventurers to his door.

A kind of antic "delivered food service", on a very unregular basis.

Pirates' Lair

Those villains might even be of the lazy type:

Everybody knows it's not safe to sail in sight of the desolated island of Staffa, but it is a much shorter route to reach Ireland, so audacious captains may try their luck to gain half a day of sea time (this is completly invented - just so you know).

Since the island is supposedly deserted, if a fake lighthouse at night seem to shine on the island, captains tend to think they have arrived in sight Little Colonsay and its quiet coves...

What happens next is a boat stranding on shoal, and a horde of pirate coming to finish of the crew.

The pirates then move their loot into the labyrith town made of cave complexes carved of the basalt.

Sea singers

A very old and interesting part of marine folklore, sea singers can be great enemies for a seafaring party. They don't have to be bad per se, though. But they also can be flesh-eating manipulative merfolks that look pleasant to the eye.

What happens if a PC falls in love with one of those "monsters"?

And what do you do with the offspring?

In any case, if there is treasure at Fingal's, king of the Sea-Elves, to be found, you'd better have a lot of potions of water breathing at the ready.

Door to another place

A cave can also be an entrance. It could lead to different kind of places:

  • A volcanic underwater realm bathed in warm slightly sulfuric waters, where alguae produces light and filter the water. What civilization could live down there?
  • The lair and resting place of a gigantig sea serpent. It attacks a ship from time to time, but it also feeds the Jörmungandr, the world serpent that prevents the oceans to fall of the edge of the earth.
  • The entrance to the watery part of the underworld, where you need to go if you want to petition a drowned person. And you really need to ask Captain Ahab how he tamed that megalodon that is drowning the fleet of good King Agassiz...


Since I post these musings under the tag of OSR, i might give you a table.

Some of the ideas are taken from the article, other are new stubs to kickstart your imagination (if the picture was not enough)

D20 What is this place?
1 Entrance to a secret pirate society
2 Lair of Jörmungandotir, offspring of the World-Serpent
3 Antechamber of the court of Fingal, king of the Sea-Elves
4 Marketplace for humans and an underwater civilisation
5 Lair of an immortal fishing troll, last known companion to Sherkhan the Mad Archmage
6 Slumbering place of Fingal the Accursed, formerly builder of bridges between continents
7 Door to the murky and dark underwater underworld
8 Lair of a vicious and tidiness-obsessive Water-Dragon
9 Church of cultists praying to the deep ones
10 Place where sea singers come to the surface to seduce land-dwellers
11 Door to an underwater volcanic realm of wonders
12 Birth place of the Cyclop, son of Poseidon
13 Laboratory of a crazy geomancer - with a love for basalt (and golems)
14 Basalt portal leading to the alien quarter of a dwarf city
15 Reunion place of the Assembly of the Masterless Basalt Golems
16 Abandonned empty mining site of black pearls and basalt soul-stones
17 Entrance to the Basalt-Labyrinth where lay the wellspring of stone-to-flesh-water
18 Entrance to the palace of the Medusa, owner of the last teleportation circle
19 Former abode of the demigod Basaltus and lobby to his Forge
20 Sea-faeries bank of the lost memories. Each one is stored in a basalt column

If you need crazier results, roll a few D20 in order and make it the history of the place. Good luck tying up those lore tidbits together.

I hope this place has jogged up your imagination and that you will use it in one of your games.

If you do, i'd be glad if you could leave a comment to tell the adventure.

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