Consider Chaos

Horrified David with blue hair and wings
I had an experience the other day where, trying to resolve an issue, office A told me it's the job of office B, office B said to talk to office C, and C said I had to talk to A. This is not uncommon. Things are pretty chaotic.

The next time you lay out a dungeon or lair of a bunch of chaotic monsters, consider the chaotic people and institutions in your own life, and see if injecting some of those details doesn't heighten how bewildering they are (or at least give some catharsis to you). I'll say as someone just slightly on the spectrum, it's somewhere between challenging and painful to imagine a world that works like this -- but it is the world I live in.

Some seeds for thought:

  • Cave A, B, and C have the same monster type, but they don't coordinate in any way.
  • Different caves have different "bosses" who are in direct competition with each other.
  • There's a "king" monster but (like the book says), their immediate command is only the people in direct line of sight. They can give dictates to the larger complex, but it's always a per-area reaction roll to see if they are obeyed or not.
  • Cave A and B are the same clan, but due to a feud they haven't communicated in several years.
  • Cave A may have information the PCs can cajole, bribe, or force out of them: details on people, places, things, passwords, maps, etc. But they're simply wrong, and the monsters in Cave B say they've never heard of any of them. Maps are incorrect. Passwords are out of date.
  • Cave A has certain protocols that are maintained for weeks or months: a patrol schedule, name of a boss, guardian monster pass, puzzle-lock pattern, etc. Then one day it doesn't work like that and everyone denies any knowledge that it was ever different.
  • The tribe is known for using a particular weapon (say: long spears). Then one day the king announces that these are now anathema (due to a scroll, religious revelation, wormtongue consultant, etc.), and every such item in the tribe is burned in a great bonfire. The tribe starts manufacturing swords and shields; this works poorly, so, some months later, they switch back.
  • Monsters are not proficient with the new weapons they've recently been given. Or, they've had them for some time but never received any training.
  • The king has a cool magic item but can't use it. The shaman is currently on the 5th cycle of divining a series of control words for it, none of which have worked when the king goes to use the item in a crisis.
  • Any idiom you can possibly think of gets misconstrued. "We need to see the boss! - We don't allow portraits in here." "I'm all ears - That's horrible, I'm glad you masked yourself with an illusion." "That'll be a piece of cake - I had cake once, I challenge you to the death for it."
  • General willingness to give BS responses (in the Frankfurtian sense) randomly on any issue, large or small.
  • Claims to great monsters, defenses, or treasures that simply don't exist.
  • Boss monsters who run away immediately and let their goons die to cover their tracks.
  • Numbers in the lair may go up or down randomly between sessions as other monsters are recruited/dismissed for various reasons.
  • Various cargo-cult rituals occur; claims to magic power, alien gates, etc. The majority do nothing. Can the PCs depend on them continuing to do nothing as they try different things in the future?
  • Scrolls & spellbooks of twisted, semi-cursed versions of standard spells.
  • Bosses reactions: Always screaming random directions. Often self-contradictory.
  • Tribe has a series of religious dictates which are all vocally worshiped and ignored in practice.
  • Door with a puzzle lock unknown by anyone in the tribe. Maybe there is no solution.
  • One low-level member of tribe actually has solution or passkey for a certain puzzle, trap, or monster, but no one believes them, because they're politically disempowered. Who is it?
  • Key tribe members are mostly drunk or drugged on a regular basis.
  • Going darker: The tribe randomly accuses some of its members of non-existent heresy and imprisons or tortures them, to no benefit.
  • The tribe ejects members randomly for various infractions. And/or: If members seek to leave, they are captured and imprisoned instead.
  • Townsfolk are kidnapped: And some random proportion are afflicted by the chaos of the place with Stockholm syndrome and surprisingly fight for their captors.
  • The tribe is spending a great deal of resources to defend themselves from a nonexistent threat (fictional monster, enemy tribe, made-up curse, cult, etc.) Meanwhile there's an actual disease, poison gas, parasite infestation, or geologic catastrophe that's degrading the tribe and being scrupulously ignored.
  • The tribe practices culling of a certain part of its population (based on age, gender, physique, etc.) They then have a problem of being over-biased in one direction, so they flip to culling the opposite part of the tribe.

At a somewhat higher level, consider if reality itself isn't morphing all the time, faerie-style:

  • Room furnishings and decor are changed frequently to their exact opposites semi-randomly.
  • NPCs show up in sequential encounters with somewhat changed hair, body, facial features (scar switches side), vocal tics, etc.; and show no awareness they were ever different.
  • Magic tricks, traps, puzzles, riddles, etc., get morphed on different dungeon delves.
  • Time slows down or speeds up in different parts of the dungeon, randomly in different sessions.
  • The spatial map layout of the dungeon, and possibly the surrounding wilderness, likewise shift between different sessions. Connections appear and disappear. Rooms gets closer or further apart. (Note: I've wanted to implement this for some time, but creating a nice keyed map takes so much time, it's difficult to commit to re-generating it on a regular basis. Some software tooling that "rubber-sheets" the map would be really great.)

I'm sure you can think of more examples. Just reflect on the institutions closest to you and riff on out-of-control processes you've seen yourself. Write a dungeon background key as normal; then go through every sentence and roll for whether that really is how things work - in contrast to how the inhabitants think/claim it works. Go read Stack Exchange: Workplace and fold in various absurdities.

In conclusion: The classic trope of a dungeon with monsters in nearby rooms or caves who are totally disconnected, without any communication or coordination, is actually not that unrealistic. It happens around us in the standard workplace all the time. Let your players experience the force of true chaos!


  1. He he he. I love RPing 'friction' (per Clausewitz) in the monster responses/actions. That's what random checks are for - encounter, reaction, morale. It's not unheard of for monsters to start fighting each other, ignoring the PCs. Some monsters may swap sides during the battle, and claim they were on the PCs' side all along.

  2. I...I think I worked there once?

  3. I play D&D to escape this nonsense... But then again, I can't just cast Fireball IRL....

  4. I've been generating urban encounter content recently by combining new entries from r/AITA and r/FloridaMan ─ it's been working perfectly for Troika! and Electric Bastionland and I'm about to put some in my odnd underdarks

  5. If I recall correctly, the Stonehell megadungeon was created by a chaotic extraplanar entity, and as you go deeper into the dungeon more and more of these become true.