Wednesday, February 25, 2009


After reading Philotomy's postings on his Lost City games I was really intrigued about a small detail that he added to the module: Ventilation. Now this might not seem like a topic of much concern but it took seed and germinated...and this is what I've come up with.

Ventilation in a dungeon makes perfect sense in many cases. Now I'm not saying that it has to be present everywhere, but it's an absolutely perfect avenue for infestation from the outside as well as a vector for travel and attack. The way I envision this can run from anywhere between something simple like just plain ol shafts, to stuff that's cleverly hidden in the decorative stone work. (Philotomy's idea actually...)

I've got a few thoughts about the ventilation and how it might affect the dungeon as a whole. The upper levels would be supplied air through a cleverly engineered dcut system that transports air via the surface. Lower levels are a different matter though. There's a Fritz Leiber story (Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser) that involves both of the heroes being employed in an ancient but massive underground realm. The lower portions are supplied air by a whole crew of these specially bred slaves. They're one of the last surviving artifacts of the ancient race that built the place.

Their job is to constantly walk on these massive tread mills located on a completely dedicated level, which in turn run huge turbines that supply air through a duct system. In the end the creatures are eventually freed via a war between the surviving sides.

Wouldn't that be kind of neat though? Include a deep sub-level that's sole purpose is to supply a "service" to the rest of the dungeon? I know that people have talked recently about a group of neutral merchants, a slew of cleaners and general custodians or a group of runners. This is something a bit different...

Maybe initially it's not evident what they do. Imagine a massive cavern with hundreds of these blind, docile, long-lived creatures endlessly walking on tread mill-type devices. And attached to these are long belts that stretch up to a ceiling far overhead. And located there, are the massive turbines...hidden by darkness but the susurrus fills the chamber along with the dull thumping of the ponderous but ever enduring slaves.

Now of course an operation like this would require some type of support. Food, custodians and technicians, etc. Imagine a race of creatures who can nimbly climb the walls and work upside down upon the turbines and drive belts. Another group of creatures that take care of the "walking brutes", a group of farmers who tend to the penned insect farms and the wall-clinging fungus gardens, and then of course there's the overseer.

Who knows what the overseer is or does. But it's also long-lived and communicates to the masses via pheromones and scent. This could very well operate like a colony of insects. Or not.


Amityville Mike said...

The old Quarmall gambit, eh?

Something like that would definately fall into the Zowie! category of dungeon design (a memorable facet of the dungeon that distinguishes it from other dungeons). I thought about ventilation a very tiny bit when I saw Stonehell was going to run deep. My solution was the wind obelisks - plinths of stone that periodically summon gusts of wind from the Elemental Plan of Air to refresh the dungeon. Not as groovy as treadmills and air ducts but it gets the job done.

I do think you're on to something though. If you going to make allowances for certain realistic concerns like a proper air supply, you might as well make the solution more interesting than just air vents and a big fan. The same probably is true with plumbing and other mundane aspects of the dungeon.

Gamer Dude said...

Ah ha! That was it, the Lords of Quarmall. I couldn't for the life of me remember the name of the specific story. Thanks for that Mike.

That's the beauty of the "dungeon" though as a realm, pieces of it may make logical sense (e.g. Air shafts, garbage pits, etc.), while the whole can be as disjointed and "otherworldly" as one likes.

Wind obelisks. Now that's pretty sweet. Any kind of portal mechanism that channels energy or essence from one plane to another always seems to add that sense of mystery...One never knows what could step out of that open gate next.

It's the old dark doorway trick that they used so much in horror movies. Wonderful stuff, and still every bit as visceral and powerful today as it was back then.