Preparing for a mega dungeon: Dungeon23 themes, characters and factions

The first post was my prepping templates and principles to make the day-to-day participation in #dungeon23 easier. This one is about preparing the overarching yearly and monthly arcs of the dungeon, so I’ve got some more levers on days that are too much, and so it’s somewhat cohesive overall. This has the more challenging post, as it’s actually work, which my brain abhors.

Step 3: Dungeon Overview

To begin on step three, I pasted the guiding questions from the Dungeon Architects Handbook and overwrote them with my answers. I was finding this, more detailed and preemptive work that commits me to something for a whole year challenging, but then I realised I wrote a dungeon theme oracle, so I’m going to hack that and Ty’s tables that are in it to get the juices flowing. This’ll result in more text than I prefer, but it’s planning-facing text, not something I’d put in the product or tell the PCs except as secrets discovered.

Themes and Architecture

I rolled for the individual levels (see below, obviously I’m writing all of this out of order), but I struggled to generate a concept that will keep me motivated for a year, so I used MTG random and spread them as a celtic cross to develop my main theme and story. This was entirely too much, but once I had sufficient seed, the remainder went into characters and factions.

Present: Sleep; Challenge: Ring of Gix (Not every cage is made of bars); Subconscious: Rapacious Dragon (surely it won’t notice if I take – Theria the sky’s last words); Past: “Pound the steel until it fits! Doesn’t work? Bash to bits!” Future: Searing Touch; Near future: Magus of the Balance; Internal Influences: Soul of Ravnica; External Influences: Relentless Assault; Hopes & Feats: Memorial to Folly; Outcome: Ruby Leech (its gems didn’t stop pulsating until they were completely removed).

Not every cage is made of bars.

In the town square of Snowick Bush, Harrawyn, the Restful Tree, shades the town and with white flowers that glow with a aura gold. Beneath the tree is a short circular stairwell, leading to a barred gate. Only fools enter, but there is no shortage of fools travelling to Snowick Bush. Harrawyn is dying, and no-one knows why.

For a thousand years the devil-princeling Geas has been bound to sleep with bonds wrought from the feathers of angels, and sunken beneath the earth in the mausoleum called Memorial to Folly. If he wakes, he will sear the lands seeking vengeance on those that betrayed him. Harrawyn has grown from the prince’s angelic bonds, and glows with their divine light.

The recondite boons that led the hoar-priests of the Burning Lands to bury Geas here were present unbeknownst to them because even deeper below is a sleeping god: The Ruby Leech-god, slowly feeding until it’s metamorphosis. Few still worship the Leech-god, more ancient even than Geas, but as her age approaches, her psychic tendrils reach out to whisper to truth-seekers just as tendrils of her god-flesh reach out into the earth.

The greed-serpent Rapace had long tunnelled through dark and deep, but in time found the Memorial to Folly, smelling the treasure buried with Geas to be taken to the dream, and settled her supplemented horde amongst Harrawyn’s upper roots.

The delving of various recent and distant companies for various reasons formed the burrows connecting the Greed-serpent, the devil-princeling and the Leech-god. As the community of Snowick Bush grew, the nature spirits known as Freshet, Leafmould and Morimori were driven into these tunnels, which became known as Three Spirit Burrows.

Minor and Major Factions

Major factions claim two or three levels of the dungeon at status quo. Minor factions, only part of one. This gives me five major factions and however many minor factions and one-person factions (I’m calling them bosses for brevity, but some are fundamentally good or at least natural, and some are indomitable god-things, so not necessarily to be fought) as the dungeon supports. I’ll give them some of the following traits to begin, but I’ll not complete them all so the dungeon has room to grow: Faction, name, description, drive, allies, foes, schemes. Oh and a level suggestion.

  • Capi Gammo College (Minor – Level 1). Fugitive students from an arcane school, taking shelter, investigated for chaining a nature spirit. Don’t know what’s below, but will soon learn and become covetous and fractured.
  • Leafmould, the Autumn Spirit (Boss – Level 1). A very tall figure, in a long robe of decaying leaves that are left in a trail behind them, wearing a wooden mask that changes expression only when you look away. Bound and brought here by the Capi-Gammo College. Silent; brings rot and decay to living things, and moreso to plants and the dead.
  • Myfstadt Town (Major – Level 2). Family-oriented gnome-sized trolls, recent immigrants. Driven to be cosy and defend their town. Schemes to access cosy decor from outside the dungeon via a black market, and pay for it with dungeon loot.
  • Freshet, Spirit of Winters’ Thaw (Boss – Level 2). A salmon-skinned, horse-headed, heavily-muscled woman, driven here by Snowick Bush Dam. Seeks allies to free her back to Pellucid Stream. Water flows uncontrollably where she is near.
  • The Persuaders (Minor – Level 3). Body-warping human-faced beetle-men often with hammers or other tools for hands. Driven by a desire for uniformity, industrialisation and greed. “Pound the steel until it fits! Doesn’t work? Bash to bits!”
  • Morimori, the Guardian of the Forest (Boss – Level 3). A kind, blue, humanoid stag-mammoth, captured by the Persuaders to power the Eternity Machine. Loud, full of gusto when free; chants for the plants to grow.
  • The Friends (Major – Level 4). Pallid creatures, on their back several useless black-blue levitating umbilicals. grown from lilac glass cylinders and tended to by silent black and white cats. They are clones of intruders into the dungeon. Driven by a desire to reconcile memories of their stolen bodies they are haunted by. Schemes to bring more and more genetic materials to the cylinders for future generations.
  • Moss Maids (Minor – Level 5). Miss-covered women of sweating stone, seeking to serve Freshet whose life begat theirs. Slow, grinding, immovable, slimed.
  • The Greed-serpent Rapace (Boss – Level 5). Single-minded and voracious in its pursuit of riches, but cunning as are. Poisonous, darker than the earth it slithers though. Speaks in your skull like a hiss cutting your flesh.
  • The Philosophickers’ Society (Major – Level 6). Studious, tiny clockwork men, a product of the Eternity Machine. Driven to experiment without fear of reprisal. Scheme to dissect the Greed-Serpent. Scheme to taxidermy all creatures living in the dungeon.
  • Enlightened of Rapace (Minor – Level 7). Berobed and pacifist Hamstvolk. They feed their worldly desires to Rapace, their Greed-god. Allies: Rapace Foes: Redcloaks.
  • Sunfire Knights (Minor – Level 7). Heavily armoured, goblin-proportioned hamsters known as Hamstvolk. Their armour and weapons are bronze and more effective against hellspawn; blunts easily against the mundane. Seek glory by bringing all demonic life to an end. Known as redcloaks.
  • Three Fallen Thrones (Major – Level 8). Angels imprisoned for treason, and their lesser creations. Driven to return to heaven. Scheme to persuade allies to harvest the Angelic Bonds and return them to Plymiris, the Weeping Angel.
  • The Devil-princeling Geas (Boss – Level 9). A handsome, sharp-featured boy. Possessed of great command, but must collect his emblems of power to gain his full power once more. Buried with him, but they have been scattered throughout the dungeon and one was never buried: It remained the crown of the kings and emperors who succeeded him, for a time.
  • Church of the Divine Leech (Major – Level 10). Wearing liturgical clothing, in disrepair as are their decaying bodies. Driven to free the Ruby Leech God. Seek to remove all thirteen rubies from its flesh to free their god.
  • The Ruby Leech God (Boss – Level 12). A huge ruby-studded leech-like entity waiting to transform into her god-form. massive tendrils of god-flesh strangle the dungeon and can be found anywhere. They incite mistrust and feed on blood. Inactive until enough violence is performed for her to ascend.

I have no idea how I got from “thirteen is too many, let’s have five only” to sixteen factions, but they’re fun to make, and no doubt a few will not gel. There will be two, sometimes three factions per level to choose from, every level, for locations and wandering monster tables.

Wandering Monsters

Six random encounters for the whole dungeon and six wandering monsters for each level. I suspect I shall want more than six encounters per level; I like intruding encounters from other levels, it’s important. I’ll overload the table, and let the GM decide how to access the extra entries.

The gist of the second dice: 1. They left a sign or omen. 2-3. Chill activity. 4-5. Proactive activity. 6. Two wondering monsters encounter each other, roll again. If you roll a second six, roll on the random encounters table instead of, or in conjunction with the wandering monsters table.

An example of a wandering monster entry: 1d4 giant red azaleas (1. pollen trail, 2. dormant and closed, 3. feasting after a hunt, 4. hunting for soft live flesh, 5. seeking red rubies).

An example of a random encounter entry: Therya the Sly. Foolhardy and eternally curious adventurer. “Surely it’ll be fine if…” Stats as thief. 1. triggered trap or complete puzzle, 2. roasting red-azalea fronds over a flame, 3. reading The Adventures of Maigan Longshanks, 4. about to be defeated, 5. having just uncovered treasure, 6. seeking an assistant with an upcoming challenge.

Other ideas random encounters are they Magus Justice seeking to solve the mystery of the white tree’s impending demise, Geas’ dreaming soul wanders the halls, charming and persuasive, seeking freedom, Rapace roams the dungeon, seeking valuable treasure over they wake, a mercenary rival adventuring company, willing to turn coat for gold, an omen or visitation from a nature spirit.

Step 4: Themes for Levels

I’ll pull from Sean’s weekly prompts for now. Here’s what I rolled: 1. Decay; 2. Pit; 3. Empire; 4. Chaos; 5. Flood; 6. Greed; 7. Cut; 8. Solitude; 9. Sleep; 10. Darkness; 11. Death; 12. Love. This is already sparking my imagination: Water flow linking Decay to Flood; Greed as a storehouse of Empire and Chaos as what came to destroy it; Solitude leading to Sleep. A doomed undead romance connecting Darkness, Death and Love. I would like to say holy shit those last three couldn’t be better themes for the deepest three levels of a dungeon. I’d like to remind myself that I should add & not every cage is made of bars to every level prompt; I want to work that theme in with at least one individual or faction on each level.

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve got a ton of juicy, contradictory content that I can use or ignore as I choose next year. And I’ll call the megadungeon A Cage of Feathers, for now, and keep it if the theme holds or unless something juicier appears.

I realise there are a few items that’ll need building over the course of the year: A secrets list, a hooks list, twelve random tables, better faction and boss summaries, NPC summaries and stat blocks if I ever decide what to stat it for (Errant? B/X? ITO? Cairn?). A lot of the factions can just be generic bestiary stuff, like as goblin for hamstvolk.

I think I’m ready. I started the last post on the 8th and am posting this on the 14th, this prep took serious work, but I enjoy prep work to be honest, to the point of favouring it over the creative work. I’ll try to report back monthly on here next year, both with the status of the dungeon and with updates on how my processes are going.

Idle Cartulary

14th December 2022


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s