An inauspicious start to what will hopefully be a regular feature, Beneath the Earth will by a weekly article on dungeons, or an encounter area for use in a dungeon, that is inspired by pictures or drawings I've turned up on the internet, books, games, and so on.
This week I'll simply state my love for the dungeon environment in role playing games. While the dungeon is certainly not the only setting or environment in which to explore and adventure in a fantasy role playing campaign (the other major tropes being wilderness and city adventures), it will always be the most iconic and interesting to me. The mystery and wonder of exploring the "mythic underworld" holds an abject fascination for me that, quite frankly, goes beyond mere gaming and into the furthest realms of imagination.
A lot of digital ink has been spilled in the old school community concerning dungeons over the past several years, in particular with regards to the megadungeon concept, and it is my opinion this is because the dungeon offers up the most versatile and fertile area of exploration for fantastic role playing. Rather than being the "confining, worn out, cliched, nonsensical" environment that offers up little more than "hack and slash," as some in the new school claim, the dungeon in my opinion has the greatest potential for long-term game play. The tricks, traps, encounters, "specials," and so on that are found there are only part of the imaginative magic that occurs Beneath the Earth and challenges the players; the concept of the "mythic underworld," in my mind, conjures up images of lost subterranean worlds vis-a-vis Edgar Rice Burroughs or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; ancient civilizations of malign aspect as depicted by H.P. Lovecraft in his stories The Mound and At the Mountains of Madness or by Gygax in his seminal D series of adventures (Descent into the Depths of the Earth, Shrine of the Kuo Toa, and Vault of the Drow); mythological and religious overtones and allusions given the nature of the subject matter (the notions of the underworld and hell are very strong themes); and quite simply the sense of mystery and the unknown in a realm where literally anything is possible, given the other-worldliness of the underworld when compared to the realms above that are illumined by the sun.
In short, the game for me always comes back to the dungeon delve, and when I have the time for gaming or for creating material for a gaming session, it is the dungeon that consumes me, that fires my imagination the most, and offers that touchstone with my gaming youth that spurred a lifetime of interest in the fantastic, the mythological, the horrific, and the episodic adventure.
Enter all ye who dare...