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New Underdark Setting, Adventures, and Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking Tutorial!

Setting, Tutorial & Adventures!

Applied & Aggregate Spelunking is the perfect way to kick off a survival campaign in the Underdark and teach the rules included in the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking in game!

To show our gratitude for those who supported the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking Kickstarter, we doubled the size of this book, from the promised 32 pages, to a whopping 64 pages in full color, with all new art, maps, setting content, and three adventures!

Applied & Aggregate Spelunking begins with a full-blown gazetteer depicting the frontier settlement of Rotu, including all members of the Rotu Roundtable, following that, you’ll get a massive hex map that depicts the surrounding region.

This hex map serves as the backdrop for the three adventures included in Applied & Aggregate Spelunking, and also features a plethora of strange and unconventional occurrences the party can encounter as they explore uncharted territory. The exploration of this wilderness can be handled with the hexcrawl rules provided in Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking, and is supported by a massive random encounter table featuring additional hooks and complications that organically scales: Adversaries become more potent, the farther from Rotu that the group travels.

Now the main function of Applied & Aggregate Spelunking, beyond serving as a cool backdrop, is to teach the rules featured in Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking during actual play. As such, each of the adventures begins with a summary that helps the GM introduce the respective sections. The adventures take the party from 1st level all the way to 4th level using a combination of XP and milestones.

The first adventure is, structurally, a pretty linear and simple quest by design, one that highlights the strange tools and resources found in the Underworld. It also teaches the very basics of using rules from Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking, and how they can be employed to make adventures and challenges behave differently from regular gameplay. It is a guided tutorial, where the party is supported, out-game and in-game, in their first exploration expedition in the Underworld. Oh, and the party is introduced to the rather useful, but also pretty dangerous cobra coral!

The second adventure builds on these basics: It puts the responsibility for a longer trek through the wilderness on the party’s shoulders, as they venture towards a mining operation that has gone incommunicado. This adventure is more free-form, and places a higher emphasis on the agenda of the players. In many ways, this module can be seen as a tutorial for players and GMs alike, one that teaches moving away from a strictly linear “Adventure Path” style of play to one that puts its focus on the agenda of the players. It also showcases how engines in the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking can be combined and altered to make cool new rewarding things, like allowing the party to improvise traps. The module also features a deadly and unique creature that rewards clever roleplaying in combat over simply rolling high values. This design-philosophy goes both ways: It takes actual player skill to beat this adventure, but checks and balances are provided so a GM can help steer the party towards victory. That being said, foolish actions can get you killed in the Underworld.

The third adventure is an epic journey in three sections, one that highlights how hostile and deadly the Underworld can truly be, but also what stunning wonders it holds. Structurally, this module is intended to teach the GM how to use the wide variety of engines in the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking in a way that is rewarding for their respective table. While supported by a stunning isometric map, the adventure focuses on free-form, theater of the mind, style of play, as it showcases how to use and adapt the rules from the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking into your very own creations, without the requirement of a supplemental module, maps or the like. As such, plenty of guidance for the GM on rewarding engagement with the systems is included. The adventure also features a truly epic adversary that is sure to be remembered by the party beyond the confines of this adventure.

The differences in the respective structures of the three adventures is intentional, as this book aims to instill confidence and skill in GMs and players alike, teaching you to make YOUR Underworld as fantastic, as unique and wondrous as it deserves to be!

Make sure to pick up your copy of Applied & Aggregate Spelunking in PDF/Softcover and Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking in PDF/Hardcover at!


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What is Applied & Aggregate Spelunking?

I’ve been hearing about the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking and this brand new release, Applied & Aggregate Spelunking. What are these new books by AAW Games?

Applied & Aggregate Spelunking is a guide to practical use of the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking (Underdark survival), with rules for all systems, including advice for their creative use. Applied & Aggregate Spelunking also includes a full-blown setting with ready-to-play adventures.

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AAW Games announces release of Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking with Douglas Niles

Today AAW Games announced the release of the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking, compatible with dnd 5E and suitable for use with all tabletop RPGs, this book returns us to the roots of the Underdark with New York Times Best-Selling author Douglas Niles.

This book was originally conceived in 2016, written by Douglas Niles, Thilo Graf, and Stephen Yeardley from 2018-2020, and funded via Kickstarter and Backerkit in 2021, gathering a total of 3,463 backers pledging $211,629 USD to make this project happen.

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d100 Sea Cave Finds

A d100 list of found objects, unexpected sights, and strange encounters for your players to come across while exploring caves carved by the ocean’s fury.

Shallow caves can hold mysterious depths.

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Creator of the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide Returns… on Kickstarter!

The Triumphant Return of Douglas Niles

Douglas NilesDouglas Niles, a legendary name for those who hail from the days of AD&D and TSR. A man whose legacy spans from the very first Forgotten Realms novels to the creation of the Dragonlance world, Doug is a New York Times Best-Seller and his work has been read and utilized by countless roleplayers. Doug is also well known for creating the groundbreaking Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide (TSR, 1986) with legends Gary Gygax and David C. Sutherland III, a book which detailed exploration of the subterranean world, a realm which was previously only hinted at and briefly explored in a few select modules. The Dungeoneer‚Äôs Survival Guide finally gave DMs the ability to craft their own adventures and full campaigns in the Underdark.

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Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook

The Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide for AD&D

Forgotten Realms: Underdark for 3.5e

and now, Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook for D&D 4e.


If this book is any indication of the evolution of tabletop RPGs, then I want my 1st edition AD&D books back.  Yes, I know that is harsh, but instead of playing to the strengths and possibilities of a book with this name, the book immediately falls into the 4th edition pitfall of game crunch.  Instead of flavor, knowledge, and survival techniques we get new classes, races, and abilities.  Instead of gypsum, stalagmites, and underground rivers we get Trapsmith, Treasure Hunter, and Hurl-Snatcher.  Granted, there is a section on traveling in the Underdark, and there is a lot of detail, but it does nothing to actually educate me about what real travel is like underground.

When I GM, I want my players to become so involved in the game that they forget it’s a game. ¬†I want to see their faces wrenched into twisted, contorted expressions of horror, see their skin turn pale at the description of a strange creature of the underworld spilling out of a cave up ahead, see the glimmer of inspiration of they explore a new group of caves and engage the local flora and fauna to learn all that they can. ¬†This book just doesn’t do that. ¬†It’s funny really, just when I think WotC gets it, they put out something like this. ¬†They also have the audacity to attempt to appeal to old school gamers (such as myself) by referencing ancient popular dungeon and cave crawls of yesteryear. ¬†Yes, I admit, it was pretty cool to see Castle Ravenloft, White Plume Mountain, and the Temple of Elemental Evil pictures and described in a more intimate and personal way than before, and I’m not trying to dissuade Wizards from doing this in the future. ¬†I just found it a bit contrived to do so in a book which pays little (if any) homage to the products from which this book was supposedly inspired.

If I were to create a new version of the classic “Underdark Survival” book I would start with the maps and illustrations of the places you are to explore. ¬†Take out the colorful action sequences, take out the new classes and races, and put the flavor and mystery of the underworld back in! ¬†When we wrote the RISE OF THE DROW trilogy at we didn’t reference this book, nor any of the other newer incarnations. ¬†We read actual books about spelunking and life found in caves all over the world, then we used the AD&D Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide for further study on how travel in the Underdark affects adventurers carrying large amounts of gear and heavy weapons, and wearing¬†constraining¬†and heavy armor. ¬†These points are quite valid and very important to consider. ¬†Spelunking in plate mail is surely impossible unless it has some kind of enchantment to make it light as a feather, and even then, it still would¬†constrain¬†you when climbing.

Bottom line? ¬†I give this book 1 out of 5 stars. ¬†That solitary star comes from a few of the beautiful LOCATION illustrations which could be used for development of original locations by a creative and inspired GM (specifically the illustration on page 49 by Noah Bradley). ¬†Also, there are rules detailing travel in the Underdark, just not as in depth as I would like to have seen. ¬†Ultimately I would recommend to those running 4th edition that they locate and [amazon_link id=”0880382724″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]purchase the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide[/amazon_link]¬†and use it for reference when running games underground. ¬†Even though the game terms are not compatible, it is still a very¬†valuable¬†product, which is what truly sets apart the best from the rest, the test of time.