Volcanoes are part of the natural world, but rarely used in games.

Using a volcano in your game should involve an ongoing series of events that lead up to the volcano bursting and changing the area around it.

The volcano stages can be spread over weeks or days, this gives time to build tension, do side quests or the main volcano related quests.

Remember in middle ages fantasy, people know nothing about molten core of the planet or tectonic plates. Also the DM may decide that volcanoes are caused by monster incursions from limbo or ancient primordials breaking free deep within the earth. Whatever the case the common-folk has no idea, and neither would most pcs.

 

Early stages : Tremors-small earthquakes.

As the volcano swells with magma from deeper down the earth around the volcano begins to move.

NPC reactions :

  • The gods are angry, we must appease them!
  • Underdark creatures must be active, send an expedition. (underdark critters may well be affected but not necessarily responsible)
  • Mining has stopped since it’s too dangerous, foreign diplomats are encouraging importing instead of exporting.

Volcano Quests :

  • Collection X number of worshippers/herbs/items to bring to the sacred temple to appease the gods.
  • Journey to the Underdark to discover who or what is causing the earthquakes and persuade them to stop.
  • Buildings were damaged, guard the lumberyard/mine while the commoners get the resources to rebuild.

Skill tests :

  • Climbing in caves.
  • Dodging falling rocks.
  • Navigating mine tunnels or caverns.

 

Middle stages : Sea levels rise, Gas vents opening.

Sea levels rise because of the shifting of land and gas within the earth around the volcano.

NPC reactions :

  • Some sort of elemental war is going on, join in or get them to leave.
  • Flee the area, this place is going down!
  • There are less fish here, start using other nations fishing zones.

Volcano Quests :

  • Some buildings fell into the ocean, dive down and recover the contents.
  • Escort people fleeing to nearby villages from bandits and monsters.
  • Encourage the fish to come back or act as diplomats between feuding fishing boats.

Skill tests :

  • Swimming in the ocean.
  • Dealing with the gas vents (as Stinking cloud spell)
  • Dodging gas clouds and rocks thrown around by them.
  • Figuring out where the fish are.
  • Liaising between fishing crews.

Side note – Anyone with animal companions or familiars will notice the creature is agitated or flat our scared all the time leading up to the Late state.

 

Late stage : Volcano explodes, chunks of rocks fly, ash cloud for miles, lava heads for the city. It’s go time, everyone can see and hear the danger.

  • There are poisonous fumes off the lava and gas vents everywhere.
  • This is a large-scale disaster and should be treated as such.
  • Many houses will catch fire from the raining ash, or fall down from the tremors.
  • At some point a wall of lava will trash a big chunk of the town, it may take a hours or a whole day to get there, but when it hits everything in its path is gone.

NPC reactions :

  • Everyone is either fleeing to pursuing an agenda, No one is sitting still eating crispies.
  • Many would have the mindset of Run for the hills!
  • Cults or power groups get items or deal with enemies during the confusion.
  • Proof of the gods have abandoned us, only Arcane magic can save us and should rule the city.

Volcano Quests :

  • Stop looters taking regular or valuable items during the confusion.
  • Rescue people stranded by the lava flow or those injured by flying rubble.
  • Using persuasion, magic or might to get people to safety, making sure children and animals don’t get trampled.

Skill tests :

  • Lots of perception checks, active and passive to keep an eye on what’s going on.
  • Constitution checks to deal with poison gas or physical activity without rest.
  • Strength checks to move rubble, Dexterity checks to avoid debris.

Things to consider :

  • Heroes that show bravery in each section may be recognised as heroes or friends of the city.
  • What caused the volcano eruption? was it encouraged or outright created by something?
  • Has this happened before and therefore is anyone trying to aid pcs in the situation?
  • If this was caused, is there a way to stop it or move the volcano/the city away from harm?

 

Aftermath : After the eruption, what has changed?

  • Is something missing that kept the area safe/wealthy/special and now it’s gone?
  • Have any creatures/groups of influence replaced the old rulers with some of their agents?
  • What is the effect on nearby animal/plant/monster groups during and after?
  • Has there been an effect on magic? eg is part of this area now wild magic or dead magic zone?
  • Has there been an effect on the planes? eg are there now open portals to elemental planes?
  • Has this eruption broken apart an ancient prison? or disturbed a giant insect nest?
  • Has one of the formerly hostile underdark races come forth to peacefully coexist with the surface?

 

To give some ideas about the power of volcanoes, checkout some recent Volcanos in earths history –

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1980_eruption_of_Mount_St._Helens

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1883_eruption_of_Krakatoa

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  • Lots of great ideas! Thanks. I’ll be trying this or an earthquake out in a future game for sure.

    • Manos Ti

      I’ll second that. And coming to think that Volcanoes (and lava in general) have indeed been used in Fantasy in general (LotR, ASoIaF, Shannara novels etc) it is surprising that I can hardly think any of published modules use Volcanoes.

      Thanks for the great piece Blake.

  • There’s a few things missing: Let’s say the PCs figure out what’s going on and that are able to convince people to leave.Is there enough time to evacuate everyone? If not, could all PCs somehow protect the entire city from the disaster — or if not the physical structure [i.e. the buildings] then the population (or at least a good portion of it)?

    Also, the PCs could come to the scene of the volcanic eruption many years after the fact and see the remains of people who were killed by the ash, in the midst of whatever they were doing. If they’re archaeologists, maybe they could find something of note in the dig.

    • Blake Ryan

      investigation of prior eruption would be cool if your players take an interest in the strange events going on

      as for protecting the town, most magic does not have that large an area of effect, also it depends if we are talking the effects of the ash cloud, gas vents or the path of the lava flow itself.

      there is no high school geography classes in most fantasy games so players will have to not metagame

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