Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Monastery Megadungeon

A few days ago, A Paladin in Citadel posted a fantastic idea for a megadungeon entrance that really, really got my wheels turning. It's the abandoned monastery. The first thing that came to my mind was Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Mystery, betrayal, and treachery. Religion. Politics. Heresy and witch-hunting. All in one fabulous location.

So, I've decided in my spare time to start working out this megadungeon. But my first question is: where to set it? I can put it in either a fantasy version of Earth, kind of like Ars Magica's Mythic Europe, or create my own setting from scratch. And that's the difficulty.

See, a Mythic Europe setting comes almost ready-made. A little bit of Wikipedia research and I'll be able to come up with a medieval fiefdom, a simple map, and an imaginary monastery (perhaps on an island). The religion is already fleshed out and workable--Catholic Christianity, complete with different monastic orders, and perhaps a knightly order or two. Jewish characters and even Islamic characters are possibilities (depending on location). Wizards would likely be members of the Order of Hermes Trismegistus or perhaps pre-Kabbalistic mystics.

The difficulty would be with the demihuman races. I'd have to handle them carefully in order to really disrupt the feeling of a medieval European setting. By-and-large they'd belong to the Realm of Faerie, a sort of parallel universe that lies alongside or on top of ours. The Dwarves would likely be the most familiar to humans, who would have trucked with them for precious metals, iron, and gems, as well as perhaps even learned smithwork from them. The Gnomes and Halflings could easily be hidden forest peoples that the humans rarely encounter (if ever). But the Elves would be the most difficult to work in, because they could really ruin the tone of the setting entirely. I'd consider making Elves a sort of cross between the Sidhe from White Wolf's Changeling: the Dreaming, the Sithi from Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, and the Noldor/Sindar/Silvan elves from Tolkien's works. They're innately magical, and the superstitious human peasantry fears and misunderstands them. I'd probably divide the Faerie races into Seelie and Unseelie branches, with creatures like goblins and bugbears related to the Unseelie branch.

This doesn't really require a lot of mechanical adaptation. Actually, what it would require is roleplaying adaptation--the players and the DM (me) would have to approach the different races from a much different angle than they're accustomed to.

If I were to create my own setting, those things wouldn't matter. However, I'd be obliged to create everything from scratch, including the magical orders, religious institutions, political factions, etc. It wouldn't necessarily clash with any sense of "right" or "wrong" with a setting drawn from real history. However, there are a great many elements that I'd want to draw whole-cloth from our world and plunk them down unchanged in the fantasy setting, such as the Hermetics, Rosicrucians, Church and Papal politics, and other outside elements that can complicate and enliven the campaign outside of the megadungeon.

Regardless, A Paladin in Citadel has given me a lot to think on, and for that, I'm kind of grateful. I've been looking for something to run when I get back to the U.S., and this has really sparked my interest. I have to decide if I want to run this old school (S&W, Labyrinth Lord, BECMI) or something more recent (likely 3.5 with tweaks).


Aaron E. Steele said...

If it were me, i'd set in the DARK, DARK ages, like the world seen through the lens of Name of the Rose, only more so. Picture dirty illiterate rabble, feared woodlands, capricious warlords, insular religous orders.

Dave Cesarano said...

I'm thinking that, actually. Perhaps during the very early Carolingian era so that paladins exist and all the classes can be represented, but still its a really bleak time. Perhaps the monastery had been sacked by Vikings or marauding Saracens and not repopulated since. Or maybe after being sacked, the occupying raiders suddenly vanished mysteriously?

Aaron E. Steele said...

Good stuff!