Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Growing Dungeon

I posted recently about a Sinking Dungeon and that made me think of the opposite: a tower rising from the ground, little by little, revealing new chambers over time (That's similar to a Floating Dungeon, but not quite the same).  Thinking of opposites like that is a good way to generate. Another good way is to force your mind out, to find as many variants of something as you can (like these different types of dungeons).  So here I'll try that with the idea of a dungeon that grows.

When I think of growth in this context the first thing that comes to mind is vegetation, crystals, and coral:

A vine or tree dungeon is attractive at first glance.  Imagine a huge vine that ancient elves have bred and pruned to grow in a certain fashion, just add water.  You carry a cutting into a desert and pour water and green pavilions and lush groves start forming.  But, what would be the point of exploring it?  If D&D is about finding artifacts (apocalyptic) what is the purpose of exploring the brand new dungeon?  I suppose this tree dungeon could have openings to fae realms, but it seem more like a cool magic artifact than a dungeon.

A coral dungeon in an underwater campaign could be the ultimate megadungeon: no need to suss out who built it, no need for a logic of room placement, it's organic and it keeps getting bigger.  It will also fill with beasties as it grows, because the lampreys and sea slugs are already there just waiting for new chambers.  But who has underwater campaigns?

A crystal dungeon would be cool as an extra-planar locale, and it would grow organically like the coral.  But when I think or crystals growing they fill spaces not make hollows.  I have a hard time envisioning new chambers being made.  Unless it was just platforms floating on a liquid matrix of some sort?  That makes me think of lava.

Lava would make for a more vicious Sinking Dungeon, but otherwise I'm thinking of it as being another New Dungeon forming lava tubes, or growing horizontally and chamberless.  I suppose if there was a structure the party really wanted to reach, say an obsidian chapel, and it was on a lava field, the lava field's growth could keep pushing it farther away.  But that doesn't seem too promising.  I've noticed that my first ideas of growth are all rooted in a sense of Gygaxian naturalism (I am a recovering simulationist), but what about other ways the dungeon could grow?

You could have a dungeon that gets larger in one dimension.  That sounds like the tower I started with at the top.  A sort of Rising Dungeon.  While I love towers, they're by nature linear, so I'm always hesitant to focus too much on them as adventure locales.  Maybe more interesting would be something like a whole palace rising from mud or sand.  It could come pre-filled with nasty mud skippers and slightly damp treasures.

That still seems pretty naturalistic, what if the dungeon grows by two dimensions at the same time (I think three would be hard to do without a computer)?  So imagine hallways and chambers get bigger over time.  It is an Expanding Dungeon.  Bigger rooms don't seem very interesting, but if you designed cleverly, I imagine you could have new parts of the dungeon open up as tiny cracks become corridors, as a thin stone arch fills out to a sturdy bridge across a chasm.  Of course small rifts in the floor could become chasms, too, creating new obstacles.

I suppose another idea of dimensional growth would be adding dimensions, a mural or blueprint that takes on a third dimension. That seems more like a magical artifact too, though.

There's also the dimension of time.  I love the stories of people disappearing into the fae realms and time working differently for them.  What if our dungeon has advanced time passage and players know this going in?  "Look, the sage said every hour in here will be like a month passing outside, so let's find the brass urns and get out!"  The opposite could be cool too, maybe they know a dungeon where time doesn't pass and they use it to hide out from powerful foes, but they have to deal with surviving the dangerous denizens of the dungeon meanwhile.  Or maybe the party-as-a-whole decides to fast forward your campaign time-line, that could get interesting.

This is related if you think of dimensional in terms of astral/ethereal planes.  What if a dungeon emerges slowly over time in solidity?  A party might need to hurriedly explore the misty walls in order to position themselves well for the final solidity.  This assumes they aren't just trying to escape, because then they could just run for an exit, right?  So why would they need to position themselves?  I don't know, maybe a temple or artifact will be emerging too and is unreachable when all walls are solid.  This dungeon be "tidal," cycling though solid and shadowy forms.

That makes me think of ice melting and freezing.  It might be a different version of the sinking dungeon, the ice dungeon loses upper levels over time, dropping treasures and monsters on top of each other on lower levels.  But, wait, this started as me exploring growth. So, a growing ice dungeon seems like it would be similar to the crystal dungeon, or it could be similar to a lava field. Umm, I'm drawing a blank here.

Okay, I'm running out of steam and I realized I didn't talk about a meat dungeon, like being inside a beast. Any additional dungeons that would grow?


  1. Underground colony of giant ants, bees, termites or whatever semi intelligent creature you can think of, tunneling deeper and deeper and making connections between the passages. Would generate alot of PC paranoia that more monsters would suddenly burst through the walls (along with the excitement of a much bigger, meaner "Queen" version of the drones they're fighting, somewhere deep down). Could also work as a sort of virus, infecting another static dungeon but leaving paths that the PC's could follow to the source.

    Also dreams or hallucinations, of the characters invention or trapped in someone elses, very rarely in a dream would a room visited a second time be the same as the first. Perhaps a spell has been cast that effects the permanency of objects, or makes them decay faster, or run backwards. Your time dungeon idea reminded me of the chapter in Einstein's Dreams where the top floor of the building moves slower in time than the bottom floor. Or a village where time is slower the closer you are to the fountain in the town square, where time stops completely. It would be a bastard to keep track of those kinds of things though.

    But back to growing dungeons, a dungeon still being constructed, a dungeon being destroyed (and thus opening up hidden areas), a dungeon as kind of gravitational well pulling new parts towards itself, a dungeon being generated according to some magical or digital algorithm (which the PC's could perhaps tamper with)...

    I'll have trouble shaking this idea off...

  2. The ice dungeon could be an immense glacier that spreads down a mountain, crevasses and caves forming as the sheets of ice move. Or if you want something a little more fluid, a mass of icebergs grinding together and moving apart as the party tries to traverse them.

    I recall an old Gamma World module with a lair carved out of a giant thorn bush - the idea of your plants could be extended to include giant slime molds or subterranean fungal growth.

    The extra-dimensional dungeons are redolent of Moorcock's Vanishing Tower or Zelazny's Amber version of Tir Nan Og.

    @onimal - A fractal dungeon? Ooh that's evil - recurring passages would be horrible to map :)

  3. I like the tree,coral and crystal ideas.

    Tree - 
    Q."But, what would be the point of exploring it?" 

    A. The magic fruit.

    Coral -  But who has underwater campaigns?

    I've wanted to do this for sometime. There's a whole bunch of underwater monsters just begging to be used and you don't have to drown the party in a shipwreck to use them in a coral dungeon.

    crystal caves have their possibilities:

  4. Dimensional Dungeons - The tower could rise from rather fluid mud, or even water, and be full of undead, that only start to act when the mud flows out of the formerly submerged sections. Undead have treasures of coin and jewelry. Or make that any creatures you want in stasis, wich is broken by the touch of air. And just when the PCs think it has reached it's end, more towers emerge and in the end it's a giant multi-towered castle - and still it rises, and it's a cloud castle, and the remaining inhabitants start to organize to terrorize the surrounding landscape... can the PCs bring it under control and resink it in time to keep the monstrous creature buried underneath (Tarraske? Demon-lord? Demon-tarraske-lord?) from destroying the kingdom/the world? Or even clear it and use it? Maybe they where the reason it started to rise to begin with. Thanks for this ideas.

  5. How about a rogue Von Neumann dungeon that just keeps assembling, disassembling and reworking itself it certain times, or under certain stimuli.

    Sources: the self-assembling AI cities of Greg Bear's "Strength of Stones", the nigh-infinite cityscape of the anime "Blame", the puzzle/trap/torture chamber/rat maze of "Cube" and "Hypercube", and - on a less highfalutin' note - the cheesy little dungeon builder bot from the old "Book of Wondrous Inventions".

  6. Fabulous additions all. Thanks. Just a few highlights:

    @Onimal: I'm actually quite fascinated by social insects I'd probably use that can of growing dungeon first.

    @satyre:That tower of Moorcock's has been a huge influence on me. Also the article in the Dragon where Ed Greenwood mentions it along with other magical gates.

    @JDJarvis: Thanks, yeah I've always liked the City of Brass and imagine the counterpart on the plane of Water would be the Verdigris City. The cool thing about an infinite plane of water is there doesn't have to be an up. Talk about Jaquaying a dungeon! A growing coral dungeon would be fun to explore.

    @rorschachhamster: It would be really fun if the players somehow cause this nasty dungeon to start rising from the muck, heh heh.

    @Chris: yeah, self assembly is interesting especially if you could mess with the programming somehow. I know Cube, but I'll have to educate myself on your other sources. Thanks.

  7. I kept thinking about dungeons that would both grow and shrink at the same time.

    A meat dungeon that both grows and shrinks: Giant serpent continually eating its own tail.

    An ice dungeon approaching a heat source, the melted parts slide down till eventually they freeze again.

    A meat dungeon that is also a treasure: starts off as baby and grows; players must fight of the "natural" immune system or other occupants to reach the brain where a puzzle awaits; manipulating the puzzle causes the large meat to move around. I'm imagining players driving some extra-planar giant from place to place. This could eventually work as their own tower or fortress at higher levels. Perhaps it would eventually grow old or maybe suffer from gigantism and grow so large that the heart eventually goes out.

    Now I'm thinking about a baby dungeon growing in the midst of a dungeon graveyard, learning to talk and walk. Maybe they live like fruit flies. They develop quickly, reproduce, die, serve as nourishment for future generations?

    I was also thinking, you could assign different formula to each kind of growth, so the DM could create them spontaneously with little work.

  8. @Chris This reminds me of an ecology of the mimic article I read somewhere. Apparently those little mimics that masquerade as chests and doors and stuff are just semi-intelligent babies. A small percentage of mimics actually survive to adulthood where they become intelligent and telepathic and start mimicking buildings.

    That inn in the middle of nowhere with a proprietor that seems to know your every wish. A grown mimic feeding on your thoughts.

    The really big ones mimic dungeons. And they are still telepathic and intelligent, and really interested in getting the adventurers to come back and bring friends. They may lure monsters inside, and try to find ways to accumulate treasure inside of themselves. Adventurers will find that the dungeon sometimes changes, and often conform to their expectations. If they suspect a trap, there probably is one. If they suspect the area is safe, it probably is. If they think the inner sanctum is just around the corner.. it probably is.

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  10. More great ideas, thanks.

    Also, I almost forgot, you all should check out Zak's idea of a gigadungeon:


  11. Crystal: Combining this with the insect dungeon I came up with:

    A building made entirely of thin sheets of magical diamond, ruby, and emerald, all held up by a seething mass of Brandyvein Beetles. If the beetles move out from under/between the crystal it shatters. But it reforms in whatever direction it fell in. It also expands to fill new tunnels which the beetles are constantly boring...