A ‘dungeon’ is a room or cell in which a prisoner is kept. Traditionally, it is where evil overlords keep the fair maiden until the knights in shining armor come to her rescue. In fantasy role-playing games, the term ‘dungeon’ quickly expanded to mean any underground complex which the players explore in a structureed format; often, examining it room by room rather than in a story driven fashion – even when a backstory drives this explanation.
This has led to the dungeon becoming perhaps the biggest trope of the hobby, and one of the things every GM strives to do is break the formula – provide interesting settings, variations, and breaks from the pattern, while often keeping the convenience of dungeon-based game-play. Additionally, a classic dungeon is not appropriate for all genres.
I’ve always been a fan of dungeon delving, of cave exploration; from the old Red Box introduction dungeon to Undermountain, from the asteroid mines of Ceres to the fallen ruins of the Venusian space elevators. This month, I’d like to invite you to join me in exploring unusual dungeons – be it by location, theme, design, or any other element that you think makes a dungeon interesting and stand out from the usual mold.
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In an Article in the Los Angeles Times, dated January 29, 1934, reporters tell of G. Warren Shufelt, an engineer who was attempting to penetrate secret tunnels under the city in which Lizard People were supposed to live. The tunnels, supposedly located by “X-Ray” (which is just a word they threw in the article I guess), were said to be one of three lost cities on the pacific coast in which the lizards lived after a “great catastrophe” some five thousand years ago.
Naturally, the story isn’t actually plausible. Skeptoid.com pulls it apart quite nicely. Of course we are not interested in the cold, boring reality; we are interested in how this could be turned into an exciting story. And that’s just very easy.
The basic plot here is that the characters are hired to expose Shufelt’s attempt to defraud investors in the lizard man treasure hunt.
The lizard man caves could be literally real; the lizards could hide treasures there or there could just be natural riches (gold or other precious metals). The characters could attempt to do what Shufelt did, or if you set the story in 1934, they could join forces with him or work against him in trying to secure the treasure.
The lizards could actually have evil intentions, and are perhaps behind a series of missing people in Los Angeles. In the course of the investigation, the players come across these tunnels. It’s very Lovecraftian, and may be an ideal first adventure that pulls the characters into investigating Mythos activities in the first place.
In a more modern approach, the secret tunnels could be an alien outpost; after all reptilian aliens are a staple of the UFO myth.
The city project to build Los Angeles’ subway hits these tunnels and the characters are called in to investigate them.
Do a bait-and-switch. The monsters turn out not to be real, but the tunnels are used by Pirates, the Mafia and smugglers, revolutionaries against the American Theocracy, illegal immigrants, or other outcasts from society.