Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Dungeon Extraction Posse vs. the Chaotic-Body Snatchers, or: Another Reason to Go Back into the Dungeon

Here's a weird idea to address a practical problem: how to take any published, well-organized, ready-to-run dungeon or megadungeon 'off the shelf' - then increase opportunities for factional interaction while offering a coherent reason to go back into the dungeon again, even if the last four levels already should have made the PCs rich.

Let's say you've got some large dungeon or megadungeon you'd like to run, but it needs a bit more pizzazz. Factions always help, but not all published dungeons excel there. Or maybe the issue is one of motivation: explaining with a straight face why the bold adventurers who got 10,000 gold pieces in their last haul and can retire honestly now are returning to face nightmares unspeakable in even deeper holes. 

I dig many aspects of XP-for-gold, but coming up with some kind of mission or objective beyond just LOOOOOT can transform the feel of a dungeoncrawl (or any session). Games like Into the Dark or The Nightmares Underneath build dungeons around sources that leak evil or darkness into the world; PCs journey into dungeons to shut them down. I think that's a cool premise, but it's best suited to dungeons designed by GMs with that goal in mind. [NOTE: the links on this page are Affiliate links].

I was thinking today about ways one might spice up something like, say, Gunderholfen - a megadungeon reputed to be very easy to run, but a little vanilla (I haven't read it, though it sounds good) ... and I struck on the idea of the interplanar fugitive network dungeon manhunt-crawl

Um, what


Right, so bear with a little madness here. 

The fifteen fiendish lieutenants of Tartarus have long sought to invade our world, and failed ... but now, the Prophetess says, they have found a breach, a way in. They are among us. 

Or, maybe the Eleven Foetid Sorcerers of Yithang failed to seize the kingdom eight generations ago, but they swore they'd return - then projected their consciousnesses forward through time, seeking vulnerable hosts in their future (and our present).  

Or Githyanki, or Elemental Lords, or whatever. Pick your Evil-Bad Magical Conspiracy of choice. Horrible villains from Somewhere or Somewhen else are pushing their way into our space, our time, our reality - and if they are not stopped, they will destroy everything we hold dear. But they are just now arriving, and they need time to wax in strength before all their powers are present with them...

The following are true:

+ the villains find their way into our reality through fractured, warped prisms: via chaotic minds

+ thus, the baddies are not just chaotic body-snatchers; they are chaotic-body snatchers. They steal the bodies from chaotic/evil NPCs. In other words, pick a random dungeon: some of its intelligent NPCs or foes are actually possessed or replaced by the time/dimension-bending foes described above. 

+ there are multiple such infiltrators; they know of each other and are (only loosely) in communication with each other. They form a general network, hidden among the existing networks and factions present in the dungeons of the Realm. 

+ each such infiltrator lurks in the dungeon, like a dire chrysalis, waiting for their presence to be complete, their powers fully manifest, their will ready to crush the light above. That day has not yet come. It comes quickly. 

So, it's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the poor Chaotic Evil humanoid brutes down on Dungeon Level 4 are the first unwitting victims. 


I've agreed to run a summer campaign for my kids and their neighborhood friends. It needs to be a low-prep, open-table affair. For true off-the-shelf readiness, it can be hard to beat a well-organized published tentpole dungeon. But sometimes endless dungeoncrawling can look a bit dry. 

What intrigues me about this post's idea is that it could add instant menace and stakes to any ol' dungeon. Pick a published dungeon that looks easy to run, pick any seven individual foes in the book, and suddenly you've got an investigative game with a hidden social network of interplanar terrorists layered right on top of that existing, easy-to-run content. You're not just running a big dungeon, you're breaking up a Night's Black Agents-style conspyramid at the same time. So now you've got a mega-faction to hunt, and any existing factions in the dungeon can pair up with those villains, or maybe even turn against them (can you convince the gnoll band to work with you against the traitor in their midst? What if that traitor is their own warlord?). 

Maybe you do this in one big megadungeon. Maybe each level has one Interloper. Or maybe you run an overland hexcrawl with many little dungeons, but about a third of your dungeons or ruins host an Interplanar Interloper. 

Maybe you keep XP-for-gold, but you also grant really significant XP for each fugitive Interloper killed. Heck, maybe you grant five times as much XP if you can bring the villain to justice on the surface - the Sages Royal really need to interrogate each one for intelligence about who else is coming, so trying to extract a prisoner from the dungeon becomes the real gold standard for earning XP. Each Interloper knows a bit about the others, and may yield key clues to the locations or identity of other members of the network (paging the 3 Clue Rule...). And of course you could run a series of Fronts or an Events table that moves the bad guys' plan closer and closer to Doom, so that the campaign stakes really are meaningful if the players dawdle too long. 

Oh, and in between searching for these interplanar doomsters, the PCs have a reason to head back into the dungeon over and over again, doing all that normal stuff they need to do to explore the dungeon...

Will I try running this? Shrug - not sure. But I am intrigued. 

What do you think, world? Pros/cons? Seen anything like this before in action? Am I crazy? Or am I just hosting one of the Foetid Sorcerers of Yithang

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