A dungeon is a snake. So say the writers at Blog of Holding.
This is an idea that gripped me as soon as I read it. I immediately started thinking about megadungeon application for this. My mind went wild with numbers. How would a living dungeon work?
I created, in my head, “The Wrathful Dungeon”. This megadungeon would start out small, I had decided. I’d create a small map. And then I’d lay a second stage over that and create a slightly larger map, spreading to further edges. And then I’d lay a second stage over that and create a larger map again. This would go on, over something like ten levels. If you looked closely, you’d still be able to see the layout of the original dungeon in there somewhere.
How would this work? What would determine when the Dungeon would grow?
In The Wrathful Dungeon, players unknowingly collect “Dungeon Wrath”, an abstract currency which tells the GM when The Wrathful Dungeon grows. The primary method of the dungeon’s growth would be through the PCs finishing the “goal” of that level. Perhaps it’s killing a boss, or solving an epic puzzle, or looting an awesome treasure.
The secondary methods of gaining Dungeon Wrath would be through killing the dungeon’s creatures, and stealing the dungeon’s treasure.
Now, I could have just had it be “story” points that have the dungeon grow. But I thought that was boring.
Picture this if you will…
You, and your fellow party members enter the dungeon. It looks like an eons old ruin, but nobody knows anything about this place. You feel a slight tremor in the earth, but everything seems safe, so you proceed.
In the darkness, you come across a horde of goblins. You and your party cut through them.
After a lengthy battle in the darkness, three goblins remain. One rushes in, and you plunge your sword into its face, killing it instantly. And as you do, you hear the screams of your party members behind you. They sound like they’re… falling? A twenty foot wide pit has opened up on the floor behind you. And the wall those other goblins backed up against? There’s now a door leading into the darkness.
Behind the screen, the GM is rolling…
The gimmick of this dungeon is based on a d100 roll.
When the PCs enter the dungeon, the GM rolls a d100 and writes down the resulting number between 1 and 100.
Every time the PCs do something that gains them Dungeon Wrath, this rule comes into effect:
When the PCs gain Dungeon Wrath, roll d100.
If the resulting number matches a number already written down, the Dungeon changes.
If the resulting number doesn’t match a number already written down, add it to the list.
The reason for this? It makes things unpredictable for both PCs and GMs.
Instead of planning, “Oh, at the end of this dungeon level, the PCs will turn around and the Dungeon will look different,” the GM needs to be prepared for the dynamic of the dungeon to change rapidly.
A dungeon is a tree, not a snake.
I originally envisioned the dungeon as a burrowing creature. Almost literally.
Perhaps the dungeon was a thousand years old. It would burrow along just beneath the surface, popping a dungeon entrance onto the surface world every now and then. Adventurers would come, and the dungeon would take notice of them, occasionally bringing them further inside.
If the adventurers could defeat the dungeon? Great. They would force it to retreat back down into the earth. If not? It would swallow them, and not even their names would be remembered. If they simply died on the floor, they’d be left there until someone new came along.
I liked that idea, but it didn’t stick. There were too many other ideas I wanted to bring in that didn’t fit with it.
The dungeon, instead, is a tree. Or it will be, when the PCs piss it off enough.
Now, this dungeon won’t be measured by levels. There’ll be levels separated on the maps, but this dungeon will be measured by STAGES. And the stages will represent the five parts of the 5 Room Dungeon concept.
Stage 1 and 2 – The Entrance. It gets the PCs used to the dungeon, especially during the first shift. And across these two stages, they follow the rough path of a 5 Room Dungeon itself, getting a taste of everything the dungeon will have to follow.
Stage 3 and 4 – Puzzle and RP. These two stages will be full of puzzles. The dungeon has taken notice of the PCs at this point, and it wants its chance to test the adventurers for the strength of their resolve.
Stage 5 and 6 – Trick or setback. At this point, the dungeon doesn’t want the PCs to leave. But that doesn’t mean they can’t. Traps are aplenty on these two stages, with the remnants of the puzzle floors creating a labyrinthine network.
Stage 7 and 8 – The Climax. Big bosses. The PCs are deep under the surface now, learning the mystical secrets of the dungeon. Every day underground brings better understanding of just how bad the situation is.
Stage 9 – “Reward”. The PCs have almost a straight shot out of the dungeon. It’s not completely safe, but it’s a better shot than they’ve had before. Of course, if they do leave, the dungeon will still live, and the surface world will most definitely suffer. But if they destroy the dungeon, will they themselves survive?
DUNGEON STAGE 1 – A dungeon is a seed.
Something has happened to bring a little part of the world to life.
Whatever it is, the seed of a dungeon has come into being. I imagine this dungeon would be maybe two or three levels, and probably twenty to thirty rooms. It might have a total diameter underground of two hundred feet, let’s say. Its surface influence is minimal.
It wouldn’t be too difficult for the PCs to get in and out of the dungeon itself.
DUNGEON STAGE 2 – A dungeon grows roots.
The dungeon has taken notice of the PCs. It’s testing them. Mostly, it’s just grown at this point. There aren’t that many tricksy parts making the layout too conflagrated and confusing. It’s just… bigger. More of the same, really.
The surface influence is still minimal. Anybody travelling directly overhead may have noticed some minor earthquakes.
The dungeon probably extends to four or five levels, the deeper ones being smaller. It might go up to sixty or seventy rooms, with an underground diameter of five hundred feet.
It still isn’t too difficult for the PCs to get in and out.
DUNGEON STAGE 3 – A dungeon looks at the sky.
Now, the dungeon is taking things seriously. The PCs have stolen from it, killed its denizens. It starts getting tricky. The levels take on puzzling forms, with labyrinthine hallways, locked doors, illusions, and roleplaying puzzles.
A whole settlement of friendly dwarves has formed on level 4. They seem to think they’ve existed there for generations. They don’t question the nature of their existence. If the players need to leave the dungeon, the village of dwarves is probably their only hope.
Surface influence is growing. Hills are growing on the surface world above the dungeon, which spans nearly a mile in diameter. A few caverns have opened up, as well as sinkholes, like the dungeon’s eyes looking up.
The dungeon has found a source of water – a river, and it is guzzling up every drop of water that it can.
Rival adventurers might arrive in the area over the following week.
The dungeon extends deeper than ever before, as a sprawling complex.
DUNGEON STAGE 4 – A dungeon knows your name.
Strange things start happening in the maze. Puzzles which once seemed impossible are now bypassed easily, but now there are new puzzles in the dungeon. It hasn’t grown much, really, but it’s making its presence far more known to the adventurers.
The village of dwarves is growing tense. Rival adventuring parties enter the labyrinthine networks every other day. In fact, they look eerily similar to you, and to your fellows.
The surface influence is higher than before, but still the dungeon hasn’t grown, other than in character.
DUNGEON STAGE 5 – A dungeon knows its place.
Two miles from the original entrance, in the depths of a forest, there is now a tall, abandoned wizard’s tower. This tower connects to the underground lake on level 7. The village of dwarves have created an elaborate mineshaft system which connects with a ravine which blocks the trade routes across the valley of Frankland.
The world is starting to hear about the dungeon problem in the independent barony of Raglan. The Baron’s men are blocking off the entrances they can find.
Traps are around every corner. Communities are springing up everywhere. Kobolds rule the southern reaches, where they protect a delicate clutch of dragon eggs. Interrogation will reveal that they’ve stowed away the eggs everywhere in the dungeon.
Lizardmen rule the swamps on level 3.
The surface world is a different place. Bandits go to war with the villages and towns in the valley of Frankland, disconnected as they are from protection and the economy.
The dungeon is ten floors deep, with each level closer to the surface becoming a scarier, more horrible ecosystem.
DUNGEON STAGE 6 – A dungeon is its denizens.
The dragon eggs are hatching.
The rival adventuring parties are gaining levels in some of the extremities of the dungeon. The friendlier dungeon denizens, if the adventurers have managed to maintain that trust, tell tales of adventurers who look just. like. you, deep in the other levels who have slain a dragon, or dug through the walls to steal epic treasures.
Maybe they’re the ones who will kill the dungeon. Maybe they’re trying to protect it from you.
The dungeon has a surface impact stretching over a few miles now. It’s creating complicated structures on the surface world, and connecting up with the underworld deep down.
As its trapped areas become more and more deadly, ecosystems are thrown into chaos. Kobold raiding parties are found dead in piles due to some simple trap, with the adventurers knowing that something far more complex lays waiting up ahead.
But the rewards for succeeding on this level are vast.
Returning to the surface feels like a distant dream, but it’s still possible, at least if you can map out the right entrances.
DUNGEON STAGE 7 – A dungeon is settling into its foundations.
A lone man wanders the halls. He is one with the dungeon. The adventurers stop him every now and then and parley with him. He’ll break bread and help them camp out for a few hours. And he’ll disappear during the night, leaving behind cryptic notes.
With the chaos of the past few stages calming down, the various monstrous ecosystems are weakened. The rival adventurers come at you more directly now, confident enough in their abilities. They’ve established some dominion over the dungeon – or perhaps the dungeon has granted it to them to destroy you. You’re forced to fight your own dopplegangers in the darkness below the earth.
Surviving dragons reach adulthood, and their kobold tribes begin to war with each other. Each of them manages to find its own reliable route to the surface world, although it returns to roost in the dungeon each day.
At the deepest point of the dungeon, there is an ancient lich’s lair. It manifests as the top of a tower, which has roots reaching all the way to the surface world. Gravity is changed within this underground tower.
DUNGEON STAGE 8 – A dungeon is a tree.
The surface world for miles around has become the dungeon’s canopy. Its effect can be seen in every individual, in the weather, and in the physical surroundings. In an effort to draw more living creatures in, it has begun to smooth out the natural world, concealing itself a little more.
The adventurers find themselves struggling daily for survival. It is as though they are in a mighty desert, starved for fresh water, starved for fresh meat. Vegetation they find turns poisonous. The dungeon knows its final stand is now.
All it needs is one final push.
That lone man, wandering through the corridors… he doesn’t speak the truth any more. He won’t sit and break bread with you, but he’ll drink the water he knows you can’t, and eat the food he knows you shouldn’t. He’ll leave a few helpful items here and there, just out of reach.
DUNGEON STAGE 9 – A dungeon is a god.
Here, the adventurers are finally able to do something. The dungeon has reached the end of its growth cycle, and the dungeon knows it. It will do its best to provide a safe path to the surface world. It will draw its dopplegangers of you back to its heart, which now has a literal resting place somewhere in the middle of the complex.
The lone man gives the adventurer’s a choice. Kill the dungeon and be swallowed into the depths of the earth, every trace of your existence destroyed from all time, or leave, and the dungeon will keep only the land it has already claimed.
He gives you twenty-four hours to decide.