The deep weird
I just had this (perhaps not completely novel) idea: the deeper the dungeon level, the less it conforms to the natural world known by the characters.
The first three dungeons levels might be quite naturalistic — vermin and low HD humanoids living sensibly (if violently) within the circle of life and whatnot. In one or two places, weirdness might peek through from the depths in the form of, for example, a magic well. Four to six levels down, weird elements become more common, and the relationships and behaviors of the inhabitants become less understandable. The dungeon, below level six, breaks down in terms of cause and effect. Fairy tale logic dominates the lives of inhabitants, and the structure itself sprawls in non-euclidean ways.
This could also differentiate one dungeon from another. Most dungeons, in the first few levels, would more or less resemble each other. The true and unique nature of a particular dungeon’s weirdness would only be revealed within its depths.
ze bulette January 8, 2011 at 6:26 PM
It’s a great idea and immediately brings to mind some of Philotomy’s words on the dungeon as mythic underworld.
Paul January 8, 2011 at 6:34 PM
Yes, I did have in mind that a weirdness-stratified dungeon would operate on a spectrum running from Gygaxian naturalism down to extreme mythic underworld. Although, Philotomy’s mythic underworld, as I understand it, has its own consistent rules.
Welleran January 9, 2011 at 9:52 AM
I am attempting to do this very thing in my currently-running megadungeon. The first 3 levels were fairly mundane, with a few hints of weirdness. The next 2 were sort of wilderness, dividing lines where the weird met the not so weird. Below that, things rapidly start to turn odd, with themed levels, weird magics, mythical beings and the like. My players are still mired in the intermediate wilderness levels, so I have yet to see how it all works out.
FWIW, the justification I use is that the dungeon was once the home of an evil demigod. The upper levels were the home to his lesser minions, while the lower levels are infused with the demigod’s mystical weirdness (whatever that means).
Paul January 9, 2011 at 10:21 AM
“My players are still mired in the intermediate wilderness levels, so I have yet to see how it all works out.”
This is one thing that concerns me about the idea—that the game will take 3-6 months (real time) of play before getting to the meat of the thing. Though, I guess it’s true of any campaign that the DM is eager for the players to hit the good stuff. I guess the little islands in the upper levels where the weirdness seeps up would at least provide a preview of what awaits.
Welleran January 9, 2011 at 10:26 AM
“the game will take 3-6 months (real time) of play before getting to the meat of the thing”
That’s for sure! I really put the “mega” in my dungeon when I started writing it. We’ve played 61 sessions over about 21 months and the party has only made a single foray below Level 5 (and that by accident). Granted, my 5th Level is ridiculously huge, but this is a serious barrier if you’re looking for quicker gratification. My players and I have not played D&D in over a decade, so we are having too much fun to care about downward progress.