... now with 35% more arrogance!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Deep Dungeon Dweomers

I’ve said before that I prefer not thinking of monsters as biological species at all. I prefer to think of them as affronts to nature, or as I put it in a forum discussion recently, as the ultimate expression of “a wizard did it.” My monsters literally have their origin in magic: summoning spells don’t bring creatures from elsewhere, but create them ex nihilo, and in a few cases, they stick around when the spell expires. That owlbear on the third level? It didn’t have owlbear parents, and might actually be the only owlbear ever… or there might be a few more in the next few seconds.

I’ve been thinking that other dungeon features, especially the cliche tricks like magic fountains and thrones, might also be the side effect of magic. And maybe what “dungeon level” is, really, is a measure of how likely such anomalies will occur. Strange magical forces surge deep underground, and descending deep enough allows you to tinker with reality in ways you couldn’t otherwise.

Sounds like a good excuse for a table.

If you cast a spell, enchant an item, or perform magical research in the depths of the earth, side effects or enhanced effects may occur if the spell level of the magical effect is less than the dungeon level. So, the first level of the dungeon is pretty mundane, but things get weirder the deeper you go. Roll 2d6 or d4+d8 on the following table.

Roll Magical Side Effect or Enhancement
1 or less Opens Endless Monster Rift
2 Caster or Object is Cursed
3 Demonic/Chaotic Taint
4-5 Temporary Curse
6-8 Standard Spell Effect
9-10 Spell Lasts Longer
11 Double-Strength and Lasting
12 Additional At-Will Power
13+ Caster or Object is Blessed

Being cursed, or carrying a cursed item or casting in a cursed location, gives a -1 penalty per curse (max -3.) Being blessed by a patriarch or a major holy creature gives a +1 bonus (max) to the roll. Any roll of 5 or less will curse something, either the location (if a rift opens up) or the caster or the object being used/created by the caster (50/50 chance of either.) Rolls of 3 or below mean permanent curses. These curses affect further rolls on this table as well as some other similar tables I’ve posted here.

Endless Monster Rift is exactly what it sounds like. If there is an appropriate feature nearby, like a pit or fountain, it becomes the mouth that spews forth monsters. Otherwise, a crack opens up in the wall or floor. If a particular monster was being summoned or created, the rift will produce just that type of monster; otherwise, there’s a 50/50 chance that it spews one random monster type vs. a random type every time.

Demonic or Chaotic Taint turns either an object or the location Chaotic, in addition to bestowing a curse as described above. Tainted objects and locations have a random spell effect that they can cast; spell level is half the dungeon level (round up), modified up or down according to a d6 roll:

d6 Roll Modifier
1 -1 level
2-5 none
6 +1 level

Randomly select the spell from the appropriate level chart. When a tainted object or location encounters adventurers, roll for its reaction, shifting the reaction down for Lawful adventurers. If Hostile, the tainted feature casts its spell to the detriment of the adventurers; if Friendly, it casts the spell to the benefit of the adventurers, perhaps attacking their enemies. Neutral reaction means no spell casting, for now… but if new arrivals wander by, the enemy might receive diabolical assistance, depending on a second reaction roll.

If the result is the spell lasts longer than normal, it lasts for at least one day, or one extra day for spells that normally last a day or more. Make a reaction roll the next day: on any Bad or Neutral reaction, the spell ends as it normally would, while on a Good reaction, it continues another day. On a Very Good reaction (12,) check the duration every week; each additional 12 rolled bumps the duration up another level (month, season, year, decade, century.)

Additional At-Will Powers are randomly selected the same way the powers of Tainted objects and locations are selected, except it’s a power under the control of the person affected (or using an affected object.) The power’s effects last as long as a spell would, but the ability to use the power will fade over time; check as for spells that last longer than usual. Blessed people, objects, and locations have an At-Will power and are also blessed, granting a +1 on tables like this one.
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  1. Although I might disagree with a couple of particular cases-in-point, basically you have described what monsters are, in the classical legendaria of the west, exactly. Thank you! I think another big difference between old school and new school is the exaggerated need for explaining "monsters" biomes (they have a word for it, but it escapes me right now). Their natural habitat is the chaos beyond all worlds! So yes, they could show up on a given dungeon level -- or just anywhere. Thanks for a great post.

  2. I love both the ideas and the implementation. In particular:

    - In some sense, this is a spell roll, but you only need to make it in the special case (so less hassle)
    - The roll depends on context more than character power, which is in keeping with the dungeon or setting focus of megadungeon and hex crawl (that is, exploration) campaigns
    - The deeper you go, the more you need to use powerful magic for the results to be stable
    - It explains, using a mechanic that occurs in play, how magical and cursed items are created and why they are associated with dungeon adventuring

    1. I saw your G+ post and was preparing a follow-up post expanding on those points... But I probably won't have it up until tomorrow.

  3. Excellent post. I thoroughly agree about monsters not being species. Monsters are not merely weird animals. They are (typically unique) affronts to nature. And I love the added touch that the reason the more dangerous monsters are on lower dungeon levels is because the farther down you go, the stronger the (monster-generating) magic becomes. Awesome. :)