Friday, March 25, 2016

Reasons Your Dungeon is Unspoiled

One thing that sometimes bothers me in placing decrepit dungeons/ ancient tombs/ lairs of chaos – each containing fabulous treasure and magical prizes – is: Why hasn't anyone looted it out before? Here are 20 reasons from a brainstorming session, feel free to add your own:


One of the things to look out for is that some of these work better to restrict dungeon access to high-level, and some to low-level, PCs. For example: Having to navigate through a long and dangerous wilderness, travel undersea, cast a high-level spell, conquer a foreign country, etc., set a bar for high-level PCs only. On the other hand: A dungeon magically restricted to low-level characters, cursed to foreigners but not locals, or possibly secreted or appearing only intermittently, could be used to explain why your 1st-level PCs are the first people to stumble into a particular place and thereby start their careers as freebooting adventurers. 

26 comments:

  1. Also 1. new monsters are moving in and bringing their stuff with them. 2. Some of the treasure is from dead adventurers.

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  2. Nice! These are useful!

    As an aside, in my campaign, the reason so many dungeons exist the first place is that it was the custom of the civilization that used to inhabit the main campaign area (I treat them more or less like the Romans vis-a-vis Western Europe - theirs is the language of scholarship, they left interesting ruins, etc.) to store their treasures in underground complexes filled with traps and, on occasion, magical monsters. They had various hand-wave-y religious and cultural reasons for this. But what I *hadn't* had was a handy list of justifications for why these treasure-dungeons were so often left unspoiled... and now this! Ha! Excellent!

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  3. Cool! A few of these are exactly the rationales that I'm using to adapt the G-Series of modules into my larger campaign world.

    The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is nestled in a hard-to-spot location in some wooded foothills. Said woods themselves are taboo to the locals; I even spun a tale of an old king who slew a giant while traveling, sparking a conflict that caused immense misery, before agreeing to pay wergild and strictly abide by a territorial boundary just far enough into the woods to allow his people to continue logging. The actual reason my party wanted to go there (besides the loot and XP) was that I expanded the significance of the weird temple/vestry in the underground part of the steading.

    They're currently in the Warrens of the Stone Giant Thane (adapted and modified from a Dungeon magazine article), which is on top of a high mountain.

    The frost giants will be both on the far side of a glacier and also hostile territory - they raid the nearest settlements, which only hold their own through a combination of magical aid and fighting retreat tactics - keeping the giants advancing slowly and without clear targets so they'll get distracted by localized looting, delaying them until assistance arrives to drive them off with magic.

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    1. That's nice. I particularly like expanding the significance of the hidden temple in G1; so evocative.

      What Dungeon issue was the Stone Giant Thane in?

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    2. It was from the 4E era - Dungeon 198. They actually did a whole run from Dungeon 197-200 giving Chris Perkins' take on doing the G-Series in 4E, and the stone giants were a bonus that he added of entirely original material.

      In my usage, I stuck closer to the original, but I did poach a number of named NPCs from the articles - he did a great job of making sub-chiefs, torturers, chiefs' wives, and the like more interesting/unique than just "giant with above-average hit points."

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    3. Huh, interesting. From Dragonsfoot there's an indie module that fills in the Stone Giant gap (link).

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    4. That's pretty interesting. Looking through it, though, the treasure allocation seems very odd to me. Like, if the party can open all five of those coffins and get all of the 5000 gp geodes, they'll probably net almost half a million gold, but the rest of the module has less than 100,000 gp put together. TONS of top-level magic items, too. Those stone giant clerics have better treasure than the fire giants and the dragon in their basement put together!

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    5. Good catch, that's closer than I've looked at it so far.

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  4. Dungeon as mythic underworld, following Philotomy's musings? If it does get cleared out, it (or someone/thing really nasty at the bottom, or just a mad guy with a bad sense of humour cf. Greyhawk) refills itself. After all, it becomes an empty niche in the ecosystem and life will fill it.

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    1. Yeah, that's definitely a solution. For some reason my head doesn't go in that direction too much.

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  5. Dungeon wasn't a dungeon at all until relatively recently when it was inhabited by a band of (insert monster) that is now impinging on civilized society.

    Dungeon wasn't a dungeon at all until recently one faction turned against the faction that the PCs are align with.

    Dungeon is on another plane, to which the PCs have been transported or found secret portal to.

    Dungeon has been there all along, but spread of civilization now brings people into territory claimed by dungeon inhabitants.

    Dungeon revealed by recent earthquake/eruption/collapse.

    Dungeon is ethereal.

    Dungeon is on astral plane (may just a collection of creatures on a layover gathering strength for invading the prime material?)

    Dungeon inhabitants are invisible. The dungeon has been explored several times before but always found empty.

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    1. Those are great! In particular, the all-invisible-inhabitants options really delights me.

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  6. The PCs have been betrayed and now the dungeon is their own home.

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  7. Actually, I think one of the best explantations was one given above. The dungeon has been attacked, unsuccessfully, MANY times. Where do you think all that loot came from?

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  8. The Dungeon has been looted many times. Each time new groups monsters rediscover it and begin stealing from the surrounding lands. (Note: some of the "treasure" is identifiable as stolen property. If the PC's do not return the property to it's orginal owners, it could provoke a hostile reactions from the locals.)

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  9. The locals don't want the dungeon looted.

    i.e. A town that is known far and wide for having the lair of a sphynx close would loose their only source of fame if she was defeated.

    Or: The locals do not want the undead in the graveyard put down because they have a taboo against the destruction of their loved one's corpses.

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  10. The Dungeon has been mostly beat many times. But no one can get to the really good treasure because a puzzle there has never been beat.

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  11. The dungeon exists simultaniously in two realities. The fabulous treasure that has lain untouched for eons is in the mirror version.

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  12. You can collapse all your reasons into three broad categories:

    1. The dungeon or dungeon entrance is hidden, so nobody knew how to get to it before.

    2. The dungeon is hard or dangerous to reach, (cloud castle, undersea, mountains, desert, monster infested forest etc). Can also combine with 1., in that exact location is not known.

    3. Access to the dungeon is magically gated in a way that cannot easily be bypassed.

    Plus, from the other comments

    4. Access to the dungeon is controlled by the local power or community, who for some reason wants the dungeon to remain unraided (attract affluent adventurers, taboos, sacred place etc.)

    All of these work, with the political control or remote area working worse against mid-to high level parties that are powerful enough to overcome these hurdles, and the magical controlled access / hidden dungeon working worse against high level parties that have the magical means and divination tools to overcome them.

    What also works would be that the dungeon had been hidden, forgotten or shielded from access in the past and just recently was discovered or had these protections lapse, so now the race is on for plundering it, and if the characters do not engage with urgency, it indeed will eventually be emptied out by competing groups.

    The line that the dungeon has been too tough to beat would only work for high-level dungeon like Tomb of Horrors. A dungeons that is written for a first level adventuring party does not make that narrative credivle versus more experienced adventuring parties that exist in the game world.

    The more challenging question is why well-known, open access Megadungeons like Greyhawk Castle, Undermountain et. all have not been mostly cleared by adventurers in the past.

    I think with Gygax original Greyhawk Castle, nobody worried about this game world logic originally, as there was no game world other than the dungen, which did get plundered then by multiple groups over time and lead to the addition and growth of the City of Greyhawk based on all the wealth that was hauled out of the dungeon's depths.

    And in his published iteration, Castle Zagyg, he made use of the magically controlled access you list in the form of the magical cursed fog that only recently had lifted somewhat.

    Both for Greyhawk and Undermountain the construct of a demi-god like power in the foundation of the dungeon who is re-stocking the dungeon for his entertainment is used. I.e. the reason that the dungeon has not been emptied out is because it is being refilled. This is especially convenient, as such a whimsical being can be used justify all the other illogical and hard-to explain things that go on in the dungeon.

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    1. Great analysis, thanks for that! Agree all around.

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