Castle Dundagel is vaguely based upon the real Cornish ruins of Tintagel, which really does have a nearby Cave of Merlin. I picked Tintagel as my model because of its Arthurian associations. It's the castle Uther besieges in the first part of Excalibur, where Arthur is conceived. But the ruins there today were actually built in the 13th century, the century after the Wessex campaign is set, almost as an early example of a lord's architectural folly. Key changes I made to Tintagel when I made Dundagel:
- I put the whole thing on a spit of land, rather than an island just yards off the coast. I didn't want to deal with boats every single expedition.
- Based upon this photo of Tintagel I decided I needed three 'Merlin caves' rather than the single one I'd read about.
- Since the modern understanding of Arthur and all that stuff only begins to congeal with Geoffrey of Monmouth, who is alive during the campaign, I decided that much of what we know as the standard Arthur narrative is just plain wrong.
- To whit, Arthur and Merlin weren't contemporaries. Merlin (a.k.a. Myrddin) is a generation or two later, as is Morgan le Fay, queen of Tintagel.
- Also key: Myrddin was an evil wizard and Morgan a benevolent queen. This got flip-flopped in later legend mostly because the only thing everyone clearly remembers from the period is how the queen used to dress like a tart.
The dragon moved in three or four generations after all this muck. The House of Fay had spent its energies and lost many of its bravest sons and daughters trying to contain Myrddin's mess. (That guy was long dead, thanks to a vorpal sword to the neck. Neither head nor sword have been recovered from the dungeons.) So the dragon didn't have to do much to seize control and set up shop in a hidden lava-filled cavern just slightly above Hell. But it got lazy and sleepy and soon it only ruled the monsters in name only.
Later, a trandimensional meteor crashed into Goblin Land so hard that it punched a hole through straight through to level 1 of Dundagel. But that's not what we're talking about today. Here's some maps.
I think I got all these maps from Paratime Design. The Caves/Dungeons complex is a Frankenstein of stitched stuff. Some levels are entirely swiped from published modules. Others I just used the map. One level I use the map from one module with the key from another. A lot of Dave's Mapper brand geomorphs get used all over as well.
Riffing off of other people's work is great for several reasons:
- I can recombine stuff for interesting new effects.
- I enjoy the challenge of presenting old material in a fresh way.
- I like secretly daring the players to blurt out "Hey, this is level 3 of the Temple of Elemental Evil, you fraud!" So far I've gotten away with a LOT with no one calling me on it.
- I'm a lazy ass.
- Besides, there's a lot of good stuff out there. Why not use it?