Heroic Explorations: A Dungeon by any other name

We’re building a setting where Adventurers mount expeditions into dungeons. Last post in this series covered who Adventurers are and how they fit into the world. This time we’re going to take a look at where they’re going.

Dungeons.

What is a Dungeon? For our purpose, it’s any place a group of Adventurers might go to have an Adventure. Dangerous places inhabited by fierce creatures, filled with fiendish traps, and, ideally, some kind of treasure. The treasure might be monetary, or it could be information, or just anything else the PCs want.

There’s room for unlimited variation in what form the Dungeon can take, from literal dungeons filled with prisoners, to floating sky castles reachable only by airship. There are a few common characteristics we can define, though.

  • Isolation. Dungeons are, typically, far from civilization, requiring a potentially arduous journey to reach. It would be difficult for such a place to arise and be left to fester someplace highly trafficked, though not impossible. A dungeon whose dangers were well contained, at least to the point where life can go on uninterrupted around it most of the time, might persist until someone bothers to do something about it. Most reside in places that are inconvenient and easy to ignore.
  • Dangerous. Fell beasts are either produced by the dungeon, created it, or are prone to moving in and taking residency. Often said beasts will claim the territory around the dungeon site itself as a hunting or raiding ground, emerging to look for victims as the need arises. While the area around the dungeon might be risky to travelers, those who actually go inside cannot help but confront its inhabitants and guardians. Additionally, explorers may encounter mechanical or magical traps that are still active and hazardous.
  • Potentially lucrative. Something inside the dungeon is valuable enough that it makes expeditions inside worth the inconvenience and danger. Classically and perhaps most often, this is treasure. The inhabitants either accrue it, it was built to protect it, or fallen adventurers leave their gear behind. Alternatively, there might be some ancient lore hidden within, or a valuable prisoner might be sequestered there, or some vile enemy uses it as a headquarters.

Dungeons in Heroic Expeditions

So why does our setting have all of these Dungeons scattered all over the place, enough to support an entire economy of Adventurers?

A dank cavern to die in

Some Dungeons are just natural caves and caverns, opportunistically used by various creatures or socially maladjusted wizards as lairs. Others are abandoned keeps, mines, and other works appropriated for much the same purpose; all this requires from a worldbuilding perspective is cultures capable of building such things. Others were built recently for whatever purposes they serve; wizard towers, warlord palaces, goblin dens, that sort of thing. These might be the most common sort of Dungeon structures; they’re also the most straightforward. The only worldbuilding required is to acknowledge that yes, These Things Happen.

Digging deeper, we say that yes, our setting has a history. Civilizations gone by left their marks in terms of ruins that still contain monsters, treasure, and traps. Maybe there was some ancient civilization that was particularly prone to leaving these ruins behind… maybe the world is only now crawling out of some Dark Age, and these ruins we keep finding have more advanced magic or technological artifacts.

Okay, so, we have the equivalents of real-world ancient Greece and Rome and Sumeria and Egypt and Kush and whatever else we want, but we also have something older and more powerful. Pre-human. Let’s go elven, and give say that they practiced some form of powerful magic that’s basically so far beyond us as to be incomprehensible. We’ll go into greater depth when we talk history, but for now just keep in mind impossibly ancient ruins with strange sigils, shattered crystals, all built on a ridiculous scale.

And then, of course, there’s the weird stuff. Extra-dimensional labyrinths. The innards of dead gods. Pet projects of eccentric wizards and sadistic noblemen.

You know. The usual.

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