Friday, October 4, 2013

Death Mountain - A Megadungeon Concept

The Lord of Death sits upon a throne of bone, sipping blood from a chalice made from the skull of a dead hero.  There is nothing the Death God desires more than the death of heroes, littering the floor of his great hall with their bones and mounting their skulls on his wall as trophies.  His minions tirelessly work the veins of gold and ore that lace his underground kingdom, for it is the gold that draws heroes and adventurers to plumb the storied depths of Death Mountain.  It is the gold that lures them to their deaths.

After the previous post on MTG Theros, I gave some thought to how I'd position a megadungeon themed on Greek Myth (and also the cinematic interpretations of the Greek gods - a combination of Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts).

I want something that aligns with the core values and objectives of basic Dungeons & Dragons; characters risk life and limb plumbing the dark depths of the dungeon to find gold.  Gold means experience, power, glory, and fame; it's an objective measurement of a hero's success.  The adoring public that waits safely back in the polis doesn't care if a hero stole the gold by outsmarting the monsters, or won their gold solely through feats of arms.  The cunning hero is as beloved as the strong one.

The popular culture view of the gods shows them as petty, manipulative schemers; they advance their agendas through mortal agents, and scry on the world below as a form of "Olympian reality television".  Hades loathes and hates his fellow Olympians, and has devised tricks and traps and all manner of challenges to ensure the blood flows and a steady parade of dead heroes join his underworld kingdom; the more beloved is a hero (ie, a higher level), the sweeter is the victory to the death god when he claims their souls; the other gods, for that matter, are greatly entertained when heroes overcome the machinations of the death god, and have gone so far as to sprinkle Hade's sprawling dungeon with divine boons, godly weapons, and hidden shrines and sanctuaries where their beloved champions might gain a small respite.

But death's kingdom is eternal, and there is no limit to the number of monsters that emerge from the cthonian depths.

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That's a summary of the background for Death Mountain.  It provides a "rational" explanation for all the oddities of the traditional dungeon - why there are always monsters and gold, why there are tricks and traps and weird magical things, and why you might find some boons or magic items along the way to help you out on your explorations.  Details of the home base even start to emerge, a nearby town or city that reveres adventurers as if they were famous athletes or Olympic champions.  "Put all your money on Leonidas, he always comes back with the gold!"  Dungeon delving is almost  a competitive sport, with fans, side bets, and rivalries across adventuring companies.  But always, the minions of Hades wait beneath Death Mountain, dragging the dead and the dying into the Stygian deaths to his realm of endless night.

What about a name?  In my notes I've been calling it Mount Mortis, not exactly Greek, but it sounds a bit classical. Less prosaic than Death Mountain.