So I've been reading through my copy of Rappan Athuk. Originally, I was going to write a review of it, but that sounded tedious. (Mini-review: inspiring, mostly generic, too many rats.) And if I ever review anything it's going to be Deep Carbon Observatory.
But it did get me thinking about my own mega dungeon (aside from the House of Hours
) which has been metastasizing in my brain for a while now.
Varuda the Wizard
Every setting has some ancient cliche wizard that invented a bunch of monsters that now roam the world. In Centerra, that wizard was Varuda (who also created the goblins
). Varuda has come and gone. He died at the end of a paladin lance, spitting blood and defiance. His spells fled his dying skull like rats from a sinking ship.
Vega claimed that he possessed a dead man's switch. That if he was ever killed, the world would be destroyed, eaten by three monsters that he had seeded in the earth. Everyone assumed he was lying, because he lied constantly. But then he was dead, and the earthquakes started.
The first apocalypse maggot was defeated at great cost, but it died in the end.
The apocalypse maggot was even larger by the time it died, but it too was laid to rest.
The third maggot never showed up.
The Second Apocalypse Maggot
The second apocalypse maggot was ten miles long. It slugged across the landscape like a hungry cruise ship. It ate everything that it came across. Trees, livestock, peoples, cities (weep for Dzorum, ye heathens).
It had mile-long feeder tentacles. These things reached over the treetops and the roofs, plucking people off the ground. Then it passed them other tentacles on the maggot's back, and then other tentacles. Like a fire line, passing buckets into the maggot's mouth.
The tentacles had eyes and voices and sub-tentacles of their own. They were more intelligent than the body they budded off from.
But the maggot had a subtle pull, too. The death drive was stronger near it. Among the armies, suicide rates climbed a hundred-fold. Armies mustered in front of the maggot, only to break rank and charge into its mouth, weeping out the futility of the thing.
Anyway, it's dead now. Thank the Prophetess.
Stuff Everyone Knows About The Valley
The second apocalypse maggot is buried in Kaladar, in the Valley of Heroes, so named after all of the brave people that died in the process of the killing the maggot. It was a great show of unity. Human fighting alongside elf fighting alongside orc.
After the Second War of the Maggot, the valley was declared to be off-limits by the Hesayan church, because it posed a "spiritual threat", or because it had a risk of "mortal corruption".
To enforce this, they built the Immaculate Castle. Now, it's protected by the Immaculate Order of paladins and rangers. No one is allowed into the valley, but if you do manage to penetrate into the heart of the valley, you are not permitted to leave. The Transmetallic Alchemists are the only exception to this, but more on them later.
The biggest, weirdest thing in the valley is a giant sword, several hundred feet tall, stabbed into the floor of the valley. This is the biggest secret of the valley--no one is permitted to talk about it. It is a Holy Secret of the First Order. Some of the paladins at the Immaculate Castle are rumored to be quicksilver golemlords
in disguise, members of the Mouthless Order, who ensure that the church's secrets stay secret.
<digression> Yes, the Mouthless Order is is charge of making sure that long-lost information stays hidden. They're the ones that are waiting for you when you come out of the dungeon, willing to pay you handsomely for the ancient tome you just recovered, which they will then burn in front of you. (Those who refuse this generous offer are killed.) They are (partially opposed) in their mission by the Luminous Order, who work to recover lost knowledge, especially the lost history of the Church itself. </digression>
In addition to watching over the valley, the Immaculate Order also ensures that the Tomb of Heroes is not disturbed. That's where they buried all the heroic people (of many races) who died fighting the second apocalypse maggot.
The Valley's Curse
Everything that is born in the valley grows up big, mean, and with a penchant for eating meat. (Omnivory, at the very least.) Babies born in the valley grow up to become ogres
. Most animals are dire animals.
The animals that get old also sometimes become seized with a strange fever. They go to an all-species graveyard and die in strange poses, entwined with the skeletons found there. This place is called the Monster Graveyard.
Both of these effects are recent, and both are fragments of the maggot's stirrings.
The Fingers of the Maggot
So, here's the recent event that's really been getting a lot of attention lately.
Stone spires have been growing
out of the ground. It's white, and feels like chalk, but it is much stronger than chalk. They are white at night, but darken at night. There are five of them, and each one is a dungeon, of course. (They're also all linked below-ground, but no one knows that yet.)
The Immaculate Order thinks this is weird (because it is) and has been trying to seal them all up.
The Watchful Finger
is full of Hesayan angels. There's a trio of them atop the stone tower, and they shoot holy lasers at anyone who approaches by land or by air. (If you want to access this Finger, the safest way is to do so underground, or with a mirror shield or something.) Inside are mad angels, heavenly engines, and the spring of maggot blood (the source of the valley's curse).
The Slow Finger
has stopped growing, and so the Immaculate order thinks that it is semi-safe. It is being investigated by the Transmetallic Alchemists. One of their number has actually rebelled, and sealed himself inside with the help of some mercenaries. The Alchemists want this problem fixed, but they also don't want the paladins to know. They were admitted here on the basis of their competence and their usefulness, and if they ever fail to display both they will be kicked the fuck out. Inside are amberoid protuberances, moon pools, and noble gases.
The Howling Finger
drives people insane if you look at it while standing too close to it. The safest way to travel to it is to just wear a blindfold. It is the oldest and the fastest growing of the fingers. It is full of monsters, and the paladins are desperate to bring the whole thing down. This one contains lasher men (made from corrupted paladins) and the remnants of a doom brain cult that started all the fucked up shit in the first place. The origin story.
The Broken Finger
is shattered into a million pieces. The Immaculate Order did it because it was full of monsters. As they explore the dungeons, the party will come across ancient messages from a time mage who gives instructions on how the party can travel back to time, because he needs to talk to them. Assuming the party does so, they'll be able to enter the Broken Finger back when it was still intact, meet the time mage, and probably bring him into the future with them. It's full of ancient war machines, elves, and time-displaced dinosaurs.
The Sealed Finger
has been completely wallpapered with holy scrolls, thereby ensuring its safety. Unbeknownst to all, goblins have tunneled under it and are doing their own exploring. The party may bump into such a goblin party transporting stuff back to their warrens.
The upper warrens are just a goblin warrens. The goblins have a couple of uber-powerful artifacts in their possession that they've unearthed, but they're still just goblins with basically 1 hit point. Their chieftain is called Dragon King, because he has a dragon's face growing out of his back (it's bigger than he is--he has to drag it around). It's a long story. The big boss fight here is a Crown o' Lashes (sort of a like a Nyarlathotepian giant).
The gateway to the lower warrens is guarded by three highly visible Crowns o' Lashes. This is basically a gate that the party can only pass once they think they're powerful enough to take on three giants, when one was a beastly fight a couple rooms ago.
The lower warrens are home to Mister Wiggles, who is a surviving tentacle of the apocalypse maggot. He lives in a pit like a sand-lion, where he practices his singing abilities and wizarding. Out of all the parties in the valley who are trying to figure out what is going on, he is the most effective. He's evil, but it's a practical-minded evil and his goals should probably run parallel to the PCs for the most part.
They are here to rescue the corpses of their dead ancestors out of the Tomb of Heroes.
Orcs: "Give us back our ancestors. You buried them here without their permission, and we want their bones so that we can honor them in our own sepulchres."
Paladins: "I'm sorry, the tomb is sealed. Opening it would break the protections placed on it. If you'd like, you can perform your religious rites above the part of the tomb where your ancestors are buried."
Orcs: "That is unacceptable. We will murder you now, and/or break into the tomb."
They live in the center of a maddening circle of dire animals and suicidal urges. They are led by a hag who utterly despises her fellow ogrekin, and wants them all to die.
So ogres and dire animals are taking people to certain locations, then killing them, then commiting some fucked up cannabalism-suicide circles. These are locations of mass deaths, occurring at very precise locations on the map.
The ogres and dire animals are actually acting under the orders of their hags. The locations that they are dying at are important, as they form a summoning circle, which will summon a demon large enough to wield the giant angel sword impaling the middle of the valley.
If this happens, the paladins will be smashed to shit, and the whole valley will fall under control of the ogres.
The paladins don't know this, they don't know that the hags exist, and they are actually making things worse, by fighting ogres at the leyline intersections, spilling their blood where it only reinforcing the giant demonic summoning circle.
One thing that happens sometimes in the valley, is that a PC will get possessed by the friendly ghost of some long-dead hero.
You basically give them a new character sheet and tell them to transfer over all of their items. Some of these hero ghosts are strong and awesome, while some are less so. All of them have a reason to ally themselves with the party, and this possession is voluntary. However, the friendly ghost will only possess a character once, and it will only last until the player's goals align with that of the ghost.
For example, an orcish hero's goals might be (a) destroy all fragments of the maggot while (b) insulting every paladin that they come across.
Of course, if the player has no problem pissing off all the paladins, their is no limit to how long you can have a ghost possess you. If a player really made the ghost happy (by fulfilling all of the ghost's goals AND returning the orcish bones to the orcs) they can continue playing the orcish hero for as long as they want.
Basically, they traded in their level 1 rogue for a level 3 barbarian. That's not going to break the game.
Aside from the five Fingers, there are a bunch of other locations. These are all linked together, by the way. (I think they have to be, if this is going to be a megadungeon.)
The Tomb of Heroes
is full of soldier skeletons, ready to rise up if the maggot returns. It's also full of holy golems, paladin revenants, and traps. Lots and lots of traps.
The Dream Tunnels
are the layer that connects most everything. This is the nexus dungeon floor. It starts out empty, but becomes populated with things that the PCs encounter, fear, or dream of. It also grows, becoming longer and reaching new places as new milestones are discovered. Just picture tunnels made of blue crystals, full of fog and whale noises.
The Bone Shafts
. These is a very vertical part of the dungeon. Lots of big shafts. At the bottom lie all the bones of the maggot. It's also populated by some NPC race that uses the poisonous bones in their weapons. Cave harpies? Bat people? I'll think of something later. Probably at least one necromancer, too.
The Swallowed City (Dzorum)
. There are mad people down here, descendants of those who were swallowed. Will you cut a swath through them so that you might ring the bell, or will you destroy it, forgoing its power, and lead (some of) them out into the sunlight?
The Pulsing Guts
. This is just an organic dungeon with sphincter doors, cuttable walls, and giant white blood cells that respond if you actually cut through the walls.
The Cold Brain
. This is the deepest part of the megadungeon. This is where the pseudoghost of the maggot is reviving. Electric caverns filled with grell, each one possessed by a fragment of the maggot's memories (which you can learn). I'll also incorporate some ideas from my ghost biology
Maybe put a flashback here, where the party plays as different parts of the maggot, and their goal is to survive long enough to kill the giant angel, which will give them some power over lasher men and crowns o' lashes.
The party will probably assume that they're supposed to prevent the maggot from resurrecting. The paladins obviously will, and will require a huge amount of proof before they believe anything to the contrary.
The twist is that this isn't true. If the maggot is prevented from manifesting, it will just continue building backpressure until the whole valley flies into the sun.
<digression> This goes back to the original goal of the apocalypse maggot. Varuda built them to end the world, and many people speculated that the maggots would just crawl around until they ate everything, but this is also untrue.
The purpose of the apocalypse maggot was to eat enough to pupate, when it would then become an apocalypse moth. Then it would fly up to the sun and devour that, too.</digression>
If the whole valley flies into the sun (carrying the maggot ghost), it will semi-devour the sun, turning it into a brownish shadow of what it once was. Welcome to a new ice-age, assholes.
One solution is to resurrect the maggot (as a mini-maggot) and then kill it. This can be done by using the ogrish summoning circle, or by just using a million pounds of living flesh. This may involve stacking 1000 cows in a pile.
Another solution is to put the maggot's souls in a newborn. It will grow up to be a normal (but hungry and large) person. It might be a good person, but if it is a bad person, it will be a very bad person, and then very bad things will happen.
I just really want the make the PCs responsible for finding a good foster home for a baby carrying the souls of the apocalypse maggot, okay?
Another solution might me to trick the maggot soul into devouring the moon so that no one that they know or care about dies. (There are a lot of people who live on the moon, though, including the last humans of breeding age.)
Angel of Abnegation
- declares a certain type of action to be impossible each turn
- forbids a certain word
- damages itself if it can see you, but not hurt you
- blind, echolocation (hide behind things to foil it)
Crown o' Lashes
- damages itself if it can see you, but not hurt you
- blind, echolocation (hide behind things to foil it)
- deathdrive (compelled to walk towards it)
- highly intelligent