Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Dungeon Setting As A Cancer In An Old School Campaign - OSR Commentary

William Blake At Death's Door

"The long, silent, ancient hallways snaked their way through the underworld gloom & seemed more alive then they had any right to be. Both adventurers pressed on through these strange spaces as blocks of wet stone seemed to press down on them. Back forty yards they had lost Ernie to something nameless black & dreadful to behold. Ernie was a hired hand & a skilled man of many talents but the thing had sucked off his head & drained the body dry. Fire of the darkest pits had driven it back as the cold flames licked the edges of the monster's existence away. But now the two adventurers & blood brothers raced to catch up with the dark wizard Shaz The Bold & Himmer Hiam  priest of The Black Sun. These two had succession of hired hands to help with the recovery effort but they were trying to translate a piece of the coffin top which had been carved with thousands of weird workings. These were the language of the para elemental rulers lost for two thousand years now. They heard the first of the screams when they rounded the corner & saw the smoke like thing enveloping the body of Jerrod the mason!"

Wilhelm Schubert van Ehrenberg Dungeon Interior.

Yesterday I wrote about the Labryth Lord retro clone system yesterday & it generated a lot of interest, ideas, commentary, & more. That's fantastic & I'm glad that the game is getting more time in the lime light that it deserves. But I want to get back to ruins, dungeons, & adventure locations. These places come in two styles made & created. The dungeon in the classic original Dungeons & Dragons game is a fixed point of adventure & mystery. As the years have rolled on its become so much more & reinvented over & over again numerous times. But I've had a theory about dungeons for years & its that dungeons are an alien beach head from weird space time into our home reality.
Old school game dungeons by their very nature are filled with chaotically evil beings & monsters. Things straight out of legend & mythology filtered through the imaginations of Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson.
There is something very primal about these monsters & the very nature of them sends a clear message of the Dark Forces they represent within the game of original Dungeons & Dragons. Make no mistake here I'm not talking occult or Satanic Panic bull here.
No I'm stating that dungeons are down right weird & strange because they're 'the alien other' in the Dungeons & Dragons game. Dungeons represent the temporary safety valve for the dark forces to gather from the other side into our reality. Dungeons & ruins are invasion points for these invasive monsters & the gauging zones for them as well. Their testing near humans & human forces for invasion. We've seen the clinches time & again in Sword & Sorcery literature with nihilism themes. And we've seen it in high fantasy as well. 

The dungeon is a beach head into our reality & it brings with it monsters. Ruins are dungeons waiting to happen as the smaller monsters appear followed in their wake by the larger & larger ones. These forces of Chaos come because of the self renewing food & fuel source 'us'. We're the crop & the welcome mat all in one juicy bite size package. As the cancer of the dungeon grows & changes it brings with it devils, demons, & monsters by the score.

Nalfeshnee from here for Labyrinth Lord!

Eventually within about three or four thousand years or more, the dungeon or ruins become a portal to the Underworld, Hell, The Abyss or simply elsewhere.  Dungeons it seems are a part of the unnatural cycle of gods, demons, & the other.
"The last ruby had been secured, and Quanga was about to turn his attention to the lesser jewels that adorned the king's garments in curious patterns and signs of astrological or hieratic significance. Then, amid their preoccupation, he and Hoom Feethos were startled by a loud and splintering crash that ended with myriad tinklings as of broken glass. Turning, they saw that a huge icicle had fallen from the cavern-dome; and its point, as if aimed unerringly, had cloven the skull of Eibur Tsanth, who lay amid the debris of shattered ice with the sharp end of the fragment deeply embedded in his oozing brain. He had died, instantly, without knowledge of his doom.
The accident, it seemed, was a perfectly natural one, such as might occur in summer from a slight melting of the immense pendant; but, amid their consternation, Quanga and Hoom Feethos were compelled to take note of certain circumstances that were far from normal or explicable. During the removal of the rubies, on which their attention had been centered so exclusively, the chamber had narrowed to half of its former width, and had also closed down from above, till the hanging icicles were almost upon them, like the champing teeth of some tremendous mouth. The place had darkened, and the light was such as might filter into arctic seas beneath heavy floes. The incline of the cave had grown steeper, as if it were pitching into bottomless depths. Far up -- incredibly far — the two men beheld the tiny entrance, which seemed no bigger than the mouth of a fox's hole.
For an instant, they were stupefied. The changes of the cavern could admit of no natural explanation; and the Hyperboreans felt the clammy surge of all the superstitious terrors that they had formerly disclaimed. No longer could they deny the conscious, animate malevolence, the diabolic powers of bale imputed to the ice in old legends."

It doesn't matter if these places become mega dungeons after centuries. They continue to grow in power & malevolence upon the campaign world & setting. They're fueled by myth & legend as well as the violence of their smaller  monster types. You can see this in Arduin's adventures by David A. Hargrave over & over again but it was Arneson who did it first in Blackmoor.

Both Blackmoor & Greyhawk are perfect examples of the types of devastation that dungeons can wreck on a setting. Greyhawk brings the dungeon location as cancer into to focus with numerous adventure locations where the forces of evil & chaos are just about ready to topple civilization.Adventurers & heroes are the immune system for fantasy campaigns. Two readily apparent OSR campaigns where this comes into play are Glynn Seal's Midderlands

 & Rpg Pundit's Dark Albion

Six ways of using these types adventure locations within old school campaigns:
  1. Smaller micro dungeons might be only the beginning where the PC's don't know the danger that dungeon locations pose & how they can grow & change. 
  2. There could be occult power & supernatural advantages to the creation of dungeons for black wizards who gain favors with the dark forces. 
  3. Dungeons themselves might gain alien sentience after they grow to a certain size creating all kinds of problems for the world they inhabit. 
  4. Dungeon ecologies might up point the fact that invasive monsters might be gearing up for all out invasions 
  5. The forces of evil might employ adventurers to eliminate dungeons because of the competition factor alone. 
  6. Treasures might in fact be merely 'fishing lurers' to spread the chaotic cancer of the dungeon else where.

    Note some of this commentary came about from reading through the dungeon ecology of the Secrets of the Nether City Kickstarter updates. This is looking really good!

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