Friday, September 2, 2016

Perilous Realms: Where the Mythic Underworld Meets Demon Haunted Lands


Image of Map by Dyson Logos, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.

One of the directions my refereeing thinking has been traveling recently (and assumed in my proposal for "mini-modules" over at the Ruins of Murkhill forum) is something like the following for a setting:

I want to combine Wayne Rossi's account of the "Original D&D Setting" of The Outdoor Survival Board (or some equivalent wilderness) as a "Demon Haunted Land" with Philotomy's Musings about the "Dungeon as Mythic Underworld." I imagine doing so by filling up the wilderness with lairs and "dungeons." So, if literally using the OS board, the difference would be between standing deer (lairs = 20) and crouching deer (dungeons = 9).

The lairs and first levels of these dungeons would be "mini-modules" of 1 to 3, but preferably only 1 "level." Clear a lair, and they are cleansed. They are irruptions of chaos in what should be lawful, fay lands.

The "dungeons," on the other hand, would be a lair that also served as a portal to other dungeons and lairs - perhaps even rolled randomly at the table! (So there would need to be a lot of prep for all the different lairs - hence my desire to "crowd source" this one, see above.)

If one departed the entrance/exists of a deeper lair or dungeon one would exit at its actual location in the wilderness. If it were a lair, there would be no way back to that particular magical configuration of levels. If it were a dungeon, upon entrance, the ref would roll randomly again, giving another, more than likely quite different configuration of "levels." So long as one stayed in the dungeon, the current "stack" would remain intact. Dungeons could not be so easily cleared as independent lairs. Dungeons are irruptions of the underworld. The only way to "clear" a dungeon hot-spot would be after each possible random lair was cleansed. Then cleansing each dungeon. So there is a kind of "end-game" per wilderness: complete cleansing and restoration to wonder, fay and law.

The "mythic underworld" itself usually represents some odd, enchanted, diabolic "subsuming" of the various lairs and dungeons throughout the wilderness. Going on this, I would also assume that each dungeon and lair was really the chaotic corruption of some previously lawful or at least wonderful thing. So, for example, an orcan lair would probably be the defile of a previously beautiful elven stronghold. Goblins subsume something dwarven. Trolls something Entish, etc. This would explain why so many powerful and good lawful items are down in the underworld. Chaos herself is "eating up" all these good items in a mad babbling attempt at domination. The adventurers purge the bowels of the earth and reclaim the buried antiquities.

I love the way this contributes to a more fantastical dream-like encounter. Just as in dreams where you can walk from one familiar place and suddenly find yourself somewhere completely different. Imagine a "haunted house" level where, out the windows, one saw a grey-blue dim-lit land of wandering specters and forlorn ghosts. If the windows are opened or one walks out the doors - you are suddenly in the wilderness - somewhere else!

So I also feel motivated to key each lair or dungeon for normal, heroic and super heroic levels. That way one is ready to go for your given party, even if randomly rolling the next "level."

You could do this lots of different ways. I think I would put a limit on any given "stack." No more than 3 lairs. But I would probably just stick to the entrance and one other random lair or dungeon lining up beneath it.

But under any given dungeon configuration the "third level" would be a cavernous mushroom forest of clean-up crew and purple worms.

Then, once the hidden entrance was discovered, one would finally come, one more level down, to Hell itself: "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here." The "Hell" level would be the main lair of Chaos' henchmen doing all the subversion of law and eruption of chaos throughout the good fay wilderlands. Some kind of giant's hall, like Dyson Logos has made, would be perfect. Here the highest level baddies would be met! This may be the best way finally to purge the dungeons themselves - clearing this local hell. The key or a very important campaign artifact may be necessary to bring down there and shut down operations - all foretold in some ancient, riddle-like oracle.

This would be a vast project. But it seems to me immensely rewarding both for the referee and the players.

Fight on!

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