Dungeonomicon (3.5e Sourcebook)
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This is the third installment of our series exploring portions of the D&D experience that don't work at all, began with the Tome of Necromancy and continued with the Tome of Fiends. This work focuses on the most central of perplexing legacies: the dungeon. We know you love dungeons, but you probably have more than a little difficulty justifying them to yourself or to other players of the game.
The Socialnomicon: Heroes in the Greek Sense
"Can I kill the baby kobolds?"
When people are asked to name a historical point that D&D most closely represents, they'll usually say something like "The Middle Ages," or perhaps a date between 1000 and 1500 CE in Europe. Truth be told, to find a historical period which has a social setup anything like D&D, you're going to have to go back. Way back. D&D represents a period in history that is most closely identifiable with the Iron Age: the landscape is dotted with tribes and aspiring empires, the wilderness is largely unexplored, and powerful individuals and small groups can take over an area without having a big geopolitical hubbub about it.
The source material for the social setting of D&D is not Hans Christian Andersen, it's Homer's Iliad and Caesar's Gallic Wars. In the backdrop of early historical empire building, crimes that modern humans shake their heads at the barbarity of are common place—even among the heroes. D&D at its core is about breaking into other peoples' homes, possibly killing the residents, and taking their stuff home with you in a sack. And in the context of the period, that is acceptable behavior for a hero.
For additional options and information, please see the Socionomicon.
"Honestly, I sort of expected my character to be more awesome than this."
Many character archetypes don't fit neatly into the pseudo-European-battlefield that D&D is often conceived as, but do fit squarely into the genre that Dungeons & Dragons has become. Most notably, the unarmored warriors, swashbucklers, and talkative heroes that are perpetuated in fantasy literature. They do have a place in the D&D setting, but they really haven't been done well in the rules. This makes us very sad. What follows is a re-imagining of several classes that have been with us for over 30 years, but which don't have functional game mechanics in the modern era. Some of them (like the jester) have never had functional game mechanics, while others (like the monk) have been playable characters at various times but aren't now.
For additional options and information, please see the Charactonomicon.
"100 pounds of gold for a house? How does anyone make rent without a wheelbarrow?"
Since time immemorial, D&D has used the "gold piece" as its primary currency. It is apparently a chunk of reasonably pure gold of vaguely standardized weight that people use fairly interchangeably in different cities populated by different species. In the bad old days, each gold coin was a tenth of a pound, which was hilarious and inane. In the current edition, each gold piece is a fiftieth of a pound. That's 3.43 gp to the troy ounce, which means that in the modern economy, each gp is about $171 worth of gold. Obviously, gold is significantly more common in D&D than it is on Earth, gold is also undervalued because its status as a currency standard drives it out of industrial uses and causes inflation. Further, populations in D&D are orders of magnitude smaller than they are in the real world, so the gold per person is higher even with the same amount of gold. So the gold piece is massively less valuable in D&D economies than it would be in Earth's economies.
Nonetheless, things are really expensive in D&D, and the high price in gold means that there's a distinct limitation of how much wealth can be transported by any means available. The economies of currency transaction are actually so unfavorable that currency as we understand the term does not exist. Things don't have prices or costs—all transactions are conducted in barter and a common medium of exchange is heavy lumps of precious metal.
For additional options and information, please see the Economicon.
"With great powers come laser eyebeams."
For additional options and information, please see the Maginomicon.
For options and information, please see the Thermodynaminomicon.
"Where do all these monsters come from? How do they persist generation after generation?"
Resources are limited, and thus only a finite number of creatures can be supported on any particular diet within any area. D&D has a biodiversity that would make a modern ecologist sing and dance—Greyhawk has every single species that Earth has, and then it also has thousands of additional monsters, many of which are technically top predators. That's hard to manage. Remember that to support a single top predator requires a huge amount of energy inputs.
For additional options and information, please see the Bionomicon.
"What difference does it make? We're just going to kill them anyway..."
The Underdark is filled with empires. It is notable not only that there is civilization down here at all, but that there are actual empires. There's enough space for there to be tribes of creatures that people can unite as part of their nation-building exercises.
But more than that, these disparate tribes are more different than any group of humans have ever been one from another. While there is only one race of humans on Earth, there can be literally dozens of races in a single cavern settlement in a D&D world.
For additional options and information, please see the Empirinomicon.
"How does that even stay up?"
Perhaps the most important question surrounding Dungeons & Dragons is the why there are dungeons and dragons. When you think about it, that's pretty weird.
For additional options and information, please see the Constructanomicon.
The Lexiconinomicon: Things to Talk About
"Does anyone speak 'Roper'? Anyone?"
For additional options and information, please see the Lexiconomicon.
Dungeons of Note
Sure, you've been to the sewers under the town, and the maze in the wilderness, and the cave that opens up into the Underdark, but when was the last time you went into a dungeon that you cared about in any way? Which was the last one that had some traction, some pizzazz? Here are some sample dungeons that will stick in the players' minds long after they leave them:
The Hall of Records
It's where information goes to die, except that it never dies. Located in a distant corner of Baator, the Hall of Records is a timeless library that contains a wealth of information dating back to when only the Aboleth had an empire in the mortal world. The filing system is intensely baroque, and it requires more than good searching skills to find the document that you need. The layout of the complex is inherently evil and unhelpful, designed to hamper and ruin those who need its services. The extradimensional floor plan is highly confusing and moreover the noneuclidian geometry is run with substantial changes on each layer. The index can tell you approximately where you need to be, and the only way in or out is teleportation.
Every visit to The Hall of Records is unique, and the players don't really need to map it all out. The really neat part about the place though is that it is timeless and strongly opposed to divination magic. This means that creatures can (and do) hide out in here for hundreds of years when they make a lot of enemies. Many of these vagabonds make permanent camps in various parts of the Hall of Records. They live a limited, hermit-like existence and react strongly when other creatures enter the areas they have claimed as their own.
The Tomb of Iuchiban
The world's greatest blood mage made a quite credible attempt to gain godhood and nearly succeeded. Actually killing him permanently was essentially out of the question (and completely pointless for a being of such incredible and unethical power), so he was imprisoned into a block of jade. That block of jade is further suspended in a lake of mercury in the center of a lattice of tunnels filled with the most dangerous traps that the greatest architect magician of the time could create. The nature of the construction suppresses and confuses shadowlands creatures, as well as conjuration and divination magic, making them more and more unreliable as you get farther towards the center. The original architect set the last traps from the very center of the tomb and could not himself escape, so he committed suicide right there next to the final prison. If you can get to the middle, you'll see him there and get to read his last thoughts, still preserved after all these years.
And while crawling your way through metal lined tunnels (to stop burrowing creatures) filled with imaginative lethal traps might seem like a bad thing, remember that your progress through the Tomb is essentially timed. Guards patrol the outside of the Tomb constantly, and the Empire will send people into the tomb if and only if Blood Speakers have broken that perimeter in an attempt to revive their lord. So whether your party is composed of Blood Speakers or Imperial Agents, the other team is also making its way through the maze, and if you don't get to the center in time, things will go badly for you. Taking 20 on Search may not be possible.
The Garden of the Gretel the Snowshaper
Long ago there was a 15th-level illusionist with access to several of the effects that increase the reality of shadow spells, allowing her to make 90% real simulacrums of herself with 13 levels and some spare XP, who were also able to make simulacrums of her, which were therefore also able to do so, and so on and so on. When she was finally slain, she had already amassed an army of approximately 100 13th level copies of herself in her workshop located in a valley blanketed in a constant layer of snow. And each of the simulacrums is unable to gain levels, so they have nothing better to do with XP than just make magic items, constructs, and wondrous architecture with it. Each simulacrum is completely aware that it must follow the orders of another simulacrum farther up the chain towards the original Snowshaper, so each takes great pains to avoid talking to other simulacrums lest they be forced to follow potentially self-destructive commands.
The Garden today is so wrapped in illusions that it appears to be a garden in truth. Fountains, hedges, and colorful birds stand in stark contrast with the icy and forbidding mountains that surround the valley. Thermal illusions make the region feel balmy and warm, but in truth the area is so cold that exposed skin will become frostbitten in a short period of time (noticing this is happening requires a successful DC 24 Will save to disbelieve the affected temperature). Gretel's palace appears as a fancy pagoda made of paper and wood, but in truth it is an edifice of ice carved through with tunnels. About 80 Gretel simulacrums persist to this day, and they are still under orders to remain in the valley and make things. Each of them has hidden herself in sections of the castle or the surrounding gardens, attempting to fend off other lower numbered Gretels who could command them. Reactions to non-Gretel characters entering the valley are highly mixed, often constrained by the last orders they received when the Garden was still functioning properly.
The Closed Shafts
Dwarves and kobolds dig tunnels deep into the roots of the mountains in an attempt to get access to the veins of gold and mithral that run through the earth's rocky heart. Particularly deep shafts often yield the best results, so the different teams sometimes have been known to sacrifice a bit of safety to push down as far as possible. Rivalry between the dig teams of the different races is intense and when the mine shafts break through into one another, battles often erupt over mined out territory. Shafts compromised by enemy forces are sometimes boobytrapped by either (or both) of the races, and the maps of the shafts become confused for both sets of foremen. Such was the case in the section now simply called "The Closed Section" by dwarf and kobold alike.
Both the dwarves and kobolds had been digging into what promised to be an exceptionally rich vein of mithral ore, and had been playing the territorial control game against each other, breaking shafts through into the other's territory and trapping it. The dangerous, yet not unusual game was upset when the dwarves hit water, flooding the lower sections and threatening to terminate the entire project. Undaunted, the dwarves began setting up machinery to pump the water out. Once that started coming online, the Aboleth attacked. Having a massive power advantage over the dwarven miners, they quickly overwhelmed the lowest worker teams and shut the machines off. The rest of the dwarves, seeing their compatriots converted into Skum, quickly withdrew.
The kobolds, seeing the dwarven presence weaken in the mines (and not knowing about the Aboleth forces), quickly moved in to secure territory, moving throughout the mine and setting up make-shift traps all along the route in order to damage the dwarves' ability to move back into position. When they encountered the Aboleth territory, they too were turned into Skum and slaves, and the kobolds relinquished their claims on the shafts as well.
There's a lot of mithral down there, but even the partial maps of the shafts that were possessed by the foremen of the dwarf and kobold teams have been lost. And now, the Aboleth's Skum forces are moving up into the other territory. Both the dwarves and the kobolds want someone to go down there and overwhelm the hostile forces long enough to get those machines back up and pumping.