by Mikhail Bonch-Osmolovskiy
It is the dream of many an adventurer to have a place they can call their own. A fort, a manor, a tower – something to build, customize, protect. The problem, of course, is that they inevitably have to leave it behind to go on adventures. And the more world-spanning the adventures get, the less time the heroes have to enjoy home comforts. Unless, that is, their home is a living dungeon.
Meet Your New Home
This chance encounter can occur in pretty much any dungeon. A side wall in a room is broken, revealing a strange looking brief passage down into two small linked chambers. It looks entirely out of place – it makes no sense for these rooms to be here, the stonework is different, as are the monsters within. Undead or oozes or beasts, pick some creatures that are dumb, dangerous, and have no business being in this dungeon.
Whatever these creatures are, they’ve wrecked the place – barely identifiable remnants of furniture litter the floor. As the PCs engage them, a disembodied voice begins to shout encouragements. This is Archibald, a mischievous spirit of this living dungeon. He’s eager to get rid of the current tenants, and may even fling a brick or two at the monsters if he gets worked up.
Once the fighting is done, Archibald will introduce himself properly, do his best to explain the situation, and beg the adventurers to take residence. Trouble is, he has very little idea of how the outside world works, or that it’s not typical for dungeons to wander about. With some interpretation and perhaps background checks, the PCs can learn they’re standing within a juvenile living dungeon. It is its own creature, distinct from Archibald. He may be it’s guardian spirit, he’s not sure, but he has some measure of control over where it goes. And anyway, he’ll be a god one day, and needs a suitable home and faithful minions, that is, friends and allies.
Archibald is a trickster and a braggart, but ultimately harmless. Devious and naive in equal measure, he’s starved for any kind of contact. As long as the PCs are willing to endure his company, he’ll happily guide the dungeon wherever they wish.
Alternatively, they could banish this irksome spirit, and try and establish a direct contact with the living dungeon, perhaps turning it into something like a subterranean vehicle dressed in a harness, with periscope, steering wheel attached to giant spurs, etc. – constructing and outfitting these would be a quest in its own right.
As things stand, this dungeon consists of two barren rooms connected by a short tunnel made of smooth elongated stones warm to the touch, not unlike cobblestones on a sunny day. These stones are the “flesh” of the living dungeon, shifting as it travels. It is also ticklish, and stones clink against one another when it laughs, and vibrate with a deep rumble when it purrs.
While exploring them for the first time, an Icon relationship result can be used to find something useful in these rooms, as well as discover where they come from. A 5 likely means their erstwhile owners are still looking for their armory that up and disappeared.
How does a spirit of a living dungeon pick its name, anyway? Here’s one possible explanation: it is the name of an unlucky man who perished in the very first room the dungeon swallowed. There may even be a bone or two of his still lying around – a ritual to speak with dead would help shed some light on the matter. Did the nascent guardian spirit of the dungeon take on his name, or did his soul somehow transfer to the dungeon? Either way, Archibald-the-spirit becomes defensive when Archibald-the-man is brought up and refuses to answer any questions.
The man’s family are still searching for him. There’s no telling what kind of trouble they could get into on this quest, or how Archibald would react to seeing them when PCs come to the rescue.
Customizing the Dungeon
The dungeon can grow and change. Bring a suitably impressive item, Archibald will explain, and he’ll do his best to match this centerpiece, suitably furnishing the room it’s placed in by extrapolating on its psychic residue. Drag a cauldron in and you’ll get a kitchen; alchemical equipment and it’ll be a lab; stuffed bookshelf and you get a library. This extra furniture is part of the dungeon and quickly dissolves if taken out. Likewise, you won’t get new books in your library, or actual food in your kitchen – these rooms still have to be stocked.
Normally it would take years for the dungeon to accumulate scraps of magic it finds in order to get strong enough to swallow another room. Fortunately, it now has the PCs to speed things along. It is a symbiotic relationship: the dungeon attaches to a larger prey, injects digestive enzymes (adventurers), and waits for them to bring sustenance back. It is up to scientifically minded characters whether they’re fascinated or grossed out.
The PCs can prepare any room they like for consumption – doesn’t matter if they had it made specifically for this, or simply stumbled upon one they liked. It’s not a very complicated process mainly involving smearing magic-infused paste onto all the walls.
The main source of this paste are magic items: melt one down, mix it with tasty minerals (tasty for a living dungeon, that is), and you’re good to go. PCs will quickly discover that paste produced from magic items transfers the items’ quirks to Archibald, at least for a while.
An adventurer-tier item is enough to cover a relatively small room – enough space for beds for the entire party, for instance, but not much else. A sacrificed champion-tier item covers a significantly larger area, like an entire watchtower or a living room of an opulent mansion. Finally, an epic-tier item lets your pet dungeon swallow something truly massive, like a castle hall or a whole mansion.
Other possible sources of magic paste include essences of slain elementals, hags boiled in their own cauldrons, dragon hearts baked in the gold they used to sleep on, and anything else the GM deems suitable – Icon relationship results would come in handy in distilling whatever the PCs find.
As the party advances in tiers, so does their dungeon. When they transition to the champion tier, and again at epic tier, it gains the ability to eat a “free” room of corresponding size.
To start with, the dungeon rooms are arranged in a line, as the living dungeon resembles a python swallowing and slowly digesting its prey. As it grows larger, side rooms become possible.
Riding the Dungeon
The dungeon moves through earth at a pace comparable to walking. While not the fastest way to get around, and hardly offering a scenic view, it allows the PCs to journey while enjoying the comforts of their home. The experience itself is not unlike sailing a train – the rooms sway, the tunnels between them stretch and turn as the dungeon digs forth.
This lets the PCs approach another dungeon from an unexpected angle – they break into it in some room in the middle instead of having to fight through whatever defences are positioned at the entrance. Likewise, they can retreat into the safety of their home from anywhere on the outside of a dungeon – all they have to do is call their own to come pick them up.
Unless prearranged, a 6 on an Icon relationship roll with Prince of Shadows (Archibald’s role model), Priestess (she’ll recognize him as a god one day soon, he’s sure of it), or High Druid (he is a nature spirit) will get the call out. On a 5, the dungeon might have swallowed a hitchhiker along the way, or couldn’t quite zero in on the PCs’ location.
To Rob a Thief
Of course, there’s another much more famous living dungeon plaguing the Dragon Empire – Stone Thief. If you’re playing through the Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, having a pet living dungeon of your own opens up a number of opportunities both for the players and the GM.
PCs get a safe haven, a place to retreat to when the Stone Thief submerges. As the Stone Thief travels, they can remain attached to it, riding along. Eventually, however, a Custodian may come around to check in on the uninvited guest.
Not only that, perhaps this friendly dungeon could play a part in the Stone Thief’s demise. What powers would it gain if gifted with an Eye of the Stone Thief? Does it take a living dungeon to kill a living dungeon? Or is it the Thief’s offspring and are PCs participating in a bizarre living dungeon reproductive cycle?