Friday, June 18, 2010

Imperishable Fame, part 4

Today I will finally talk about dungeons and non-dungeon adventures in my version of a Proto-Indo-European setting.  Yes, there will be dungeons despite no predecessor civilizations to build them.  More on that in a bit.

As a rule of thumb (or maybe even a hard and fast rule, I dunno) adventures would alternate between dungeon and non-dungeon sessions.  I want more mythic quests and social-fueled adventures than I normally run in D&D, ranging from the mundane to the completely epic.  I might even start out non-dungeon scenarios by rolling on a chart like this:

1. Crap!  Some outsiders have made off with the cows and/or women!
2. Hey!  Let's go to the lands of the next tribe over and steal their cows and/or women!
3. The king needs us to go consult a faraway oracle.
4. A monster is on the loose, scaring the cows and eating the herdsmen.
5. Accompany the king's son to a distant tribe, help him woo their princess.
6. A great warrior has died.  Go compete in the athletic contests held in his honor.
7. War!  Those cow-stealers from over the hill are back in force.  This time they want to conquer the joint.
8. War!  We're sick of those guys over the next hill.  Let's just stone cold conquer them.
9. Why is the river suddenly flowing the wrong way?
10. A ghost is haunting a certain place or person.  Find out what the ghost wants.
11. Somebody stole the sun!  Get it back before we all freeze!
12. A king has died and his throne is open to whoever can pass a dangerous and/or nonsensical test.

Obviously this list is just meant to be inspirational.  Once a campaign starts rolling a lot of this sort of thing writes itself.  All it takes is one bad reaction roll from a king (or one good one from his daughter) to set a whole crapload of adventure in motion.

Anyway, on to dungeons.  The dungeons of Imperishable Fame weren't built centuries ago by mad wizards and insane geniuses, as is the default D&D assumption.  Instead, imagine the creation of the world as the act of freezing chaos into a fixed shape.  Dungeons are the pockets of liquid chaos left behind by the freezing process. "You see, to be quite frank, Kevin, the fabric of the universe is far from perfect. It was a bit of botched job, you see.  We only had seven days to make it. And that's where this comes in."

Therefore, dungeons are meandering labyrinths full of nonsensical monsters because they are the physical embodiment of pure chaos leaking into the world of mortals.  I already make dungeons with irrational layouts as I tend to roll a lot of dice when making dungeons (which out to come as no big surprise to my regular readers).  But I think I would need to try even harder to make dungeons crazier under this set-up.  Also, mechanical devices such as standard dungeons doors, crossbow traps and pirate chests full of treasure would have to go in favor of big rocks that need to be herculesed out of the way, random rock falls or gouts of lava and maybe nuggets of gold or veins of gemstones.

Additionally, I think the monsters both in and out of the dungeons would follow the guideline set down by Jim Raggi in his seminal designs notes to the first editions of The Random Esoteric Creature Generator: don't use the same monster twice.  If one dungeons is infested with orcs, that's the only place in the campaign world where you can fine the orcish dudes.  I'd probably make an exception to that rule of thumb for dragons, but initially I probably wouldn't use more than one specimen of each of color of dragon.  If the PCs kill the red dragon then congratulations, they have killed The Red Dragon.  If they don't kill it, eventually it will mate with one of the other dragons (or gods know what else) and the world will soon be crawling with the critters.

I don't think I want a single megadungeon for this campaign.  Rather give me a collection of minidungeons of one to six levels apiece.  Borrowing an idea from my old Mungeon of Moom, each dungeon would have an off switch of sorts, a means whereby it would stop giving birth to creatures of chaos.  Heck, maybe finding the off switch would involve the place collapsing or blowing up in the third act like some bad action movie.  Any particular off switch might be relatively straightforward, like "kill the dragon at the bottom of the dungeon", or it might be more complex like "woo the derro queen and make an honest woman out of her, leading her people into the upper world and merging your tribe and hers".

In the next installment of this series, which will probably be the last, I'll talk about death, multigenerational rules and how to actually achieve Imperishable Fame.