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Friday, January 11, 2013

Dungeons All the Way Down

There's been talk lately (starting here and spreading elsewhere) about the "dungeon only" campaign, where there is one large dungeon (presumably a megadungeon) and little development of anything outside it.

Except that when I saw that post, I immediately thought of a campaign that starts and stays within a dungeon. Sort of like the kingdom of Zork, or maybe a medieval equivalent of Cleopatra 2525, where everyone lives underground to avoid attacks from dangerous alien/robots.

If you started the campaign in a sprawling, multi-level dungeon, with mostly abandoned "wilderness/ruins" levels above and strange dark things below your underground colony, you could create a very claustrophobic, controlled setting with lots of mystery. Why are they living underground? How far up is it to the outer world? What's up there? Are there any other civilizations, above or below ground? All of these could be discovered through exploration.

I see this as working a little like the world ship in Metamorphosis: Alpha. In fact, for all the players know, they may be *on* a world ship. You could have the same kind of post-apocalyptic inside jokes you see in Thundarr the Barbarian and similar settings, where the characters don't know the significance of the things they find, but the players know they are references to the familiar things of our own world.


  1. Dibs on Sarge as my PC.

    Someone had an idea a year or so ago had the idea that the PC races (humans, elves, dwarves) lived underground because the surface was where all the monsters lived. Also food. So they had no choice but to make expeditions to the surface in order to survive.

  2. I think you (SAROE) are refering to Wulf's Lair: Undungeon



  3. Back in the 70s, our game was dungeon only...mainly because our first exposure to D&D was an article in the Detroit News that explained the game and talked about the giant dungeon that they (Gygax et al) had created. A few months later, we tracked down the Holmes basic set (with dungeon geomorphs) and started playing. We played for a few years with no knowledge of modules or premade campaign settings. It was all set in a dungeon.

    We tried to recreate that style of play a few years ago with the same gaming group (my old gaming group). We found that it wasn't as interesting as we thought it would be (maybe I will post something about it on my own blog).

    If I were to do it over again, I would start off with a specific long-term reason for the player characters to spend time underground (treasure map, paid to explore and find something by someone else, etc) and then work with them at the beginning to ensure that they were prepared to undergo a long underground expedition with low-level characters (healing potions, special pack animals, henchmen, more starting $$$). I would also make sure that they had some way to resupply and refurbish.