Bringing The Above-Ground Underground!

Bringing The Above-Ground Underground!

This series of GM tips will look at ways to integrate the color of your wider world setting into the depths of your darkest dungeon. 

Just because you have located a game in an enclosed, possibly subterranean, setting does not mean that the wider world cannot remain integral to the game experience.

Indeed, mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar can be a great way to engage players - and maybe mess with them a little!

Rooms of Illusion (Holodecks in a sci-fi setting) are one fun way to achieve this.  Upon entering, the players find themselves in a familiar setting from elsewhere in the world or even a previous adventure (this saves a lot of planning).

The trick now is to take one or two aspects of that setting and flip them completely to create the challenge.  Regular inhabitants that would normally be neutral or friendly could become monsters to be fought, for example.  Close allies could be simulacrums possessing all the abilities of their friends but turned against the party.

The stairs running upwards open out onto a basement level and vice versa. Torches or lights create areas of impenetrable darkness, rather than pools of light.  Physically and mentally navigating through the setting is itself a challenge - with combat the extra spice!

Player memory can be a good inspiration within this setting also.  Recreating a scenario that didn’t play out too well the first time around can be both challenging and cathartic!  Of course, as the image fades afterward, so returns the memory of the original failure - success can be bittersweet.

Environment is a good thing to explore, whether through a Room of Illusion approach or actual portal that sends them someplace else for a short time.

A party adventuring in a conventional dungeon may find themselves ill equipped for a sudden shift to an arid, blazing hot location.  Similarly, a wet rain forest will prove interesting.  Dungeons may be chill on occasion but it rarely rains in one!

The conventional idea of a dungeon can be quite linear with well defined parameters. As the creator of this setting, the rules are entirely yours to make up. Ultimately, there are no rules and the dungeon itself can be any setting you choose at any time - keeping players thoroughly on their toes and entertained.

For maximum effect, ensure the players prepare well for the adventure they think they are about to embark upon and itemize what they are taking with them.  Don't allow players to miraculously pull out their winter thermals from a pack if the original setting was midsummer in a temperate climate.

Wishing you lots of fun and creativity,

P.S.: Check out our latest GM Tip video on youtube:   GM Tips: Plotting out your RPG Campaign
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