Many years ago, a wizard constructed a dungeon.
Now, normally, this wouldn’t be an act worth mentioning – after all, wizards make dungeons all the time. At least that’s what we’re told in all of the stories about wizards. This wizard, however, was more than a little bit special, and more than a little bit disturbed and unhinged. Into the stones that made up this dungeon, he poured powerful concentrations of divination magic. Within the dungeon, he placed wondrous treasures that he had accumulated in his long years of adventuring, placed terrible monsters that he had fought and subdued to guard them, and placed cunning traps to ensnare the unwary or the unwise.
Then when he was done, he left for his tower, secluded in some far away land, hidden from the world by powerful illusion spells. Perhaps it’s hidden in the highest peaks of the Dragonscale Mountains. Maybe it’s hidden among the mighty redwood trees of Bordecar’s Forest. Maybe it’s hidden in that acorn that the town drunk’s “familiar,” that we all know is just a normal squirrel, has but hasn’t eaten yet because it’s actually a magic tower (the acorn, not the squirrel, although…). Regardless, within his tower, this wizard has built powerful scrying devices that allow him to see and hear everything that goes on within the walls of his dungeon. From outside, he can control everything that goes on inside the walls of his dungeon, truly acting as the master of the place.
Every few years, this mad wizard implants suggestions into the heads of people, who begin to tell stories about this dungeon and the fabulous wealth that is contained within. These people always seem to be in close proximity to powerful adventuring groups and invariably seem to be on the other side of the continent from the dungeon itself. These rumors more often than not pique the interest of the adventuring party who then head to the location mentioned in the rumors post haste. The people spreading the rumors never remember anything about the dungeon after this.
What happens next is a weird thing indeed. These adventurers enter the dungeon to find it stocked with the most challenging monsters and traps they have ever encountered. But they are unable to leave. The entrance seals behind them, leaving them no choice but to try to make their way through the dungeon. Plentiful magic mouth spells fire off as they make their way through, welcoming them to certain rooms, giving them hints if certain conditions are fulfilled, congratulating them for overcoming various challenges, or simply taunting them for being outsmarted by the dungeon. Meanwhile, the mad wizard watches all of this on his scrying devices from the safety of his tower that may or may not be disguised as an acorn, waiting to see if the adventurers he has found are powerful enough and clever enough to outsmart him and win the grand prizes located at the end of the dungeon. If they are lucky and manage to make it through, treasures from across the realms, across the planes, and across the ages wait for them. They leave the dungeon never to remember where they were or where they acquired such wondrous magic. If they fail… well, that’s just part of the entertainment.
No one is sure just where this dungeon is located. There might be more than one for all we know. Or the dungeon itself could change its form to prevent the secrets within from being exposed to the world at large. Perhaps when the master restocks the dungeon he takes the opportunity to change things and introduce new elements to the design. Only the Dungeon Master knows, and he’s not telling you.
This dungeon is obviously not for every campaign setting, but was an idea I had born from several concepts. The first inspirations were the various game shows that I grew up with – Double Dare, Legends of the Hidden Temple, and Guts were all on the air when I was growing up, and they were constantly watched. The second is a little game of some notoriety called Paranoia, in which your group of troubleshooters undertakes dangerous and (depending on how you play the game) comical adventures serving the benevolent Friend Computer. Now, I have managed to bring Friend Computer into Star Wars pretty easily in the past, but the idea has always failed to hit for me in terms of high fantasy. But the other night, for whatever reason my mind was stuck thinking about the old video game, Smash TV, in which the players competed in a Running Man style game show for “big money, big prizes.” And I thought that the concept could be easily ported into a dungeon, with people able to watch what goes on in there through clever use of divination spells. The more I thought about it, the narrower the scope of the potential audience became until I settled on the character above known as The Dungeon Master – a wizard who had become more than a little bit unhinged during his years of adventuring and wanted to relive those moments from his past vicariously by putting other adventuring parties through his more harrowing encounters. And then the idea of populating the dungeon with magic mouth spells to provide hints, encourage, taunt, or otherwise interact with the players came to me and I realized that I had successfully created a fantasy analogue for Friend Computer. The Dungeon Master pun was then simply too good to resist.
What do you think? Is this a dungeon crawl you would have fun with? What kind of encounters do you think would be fun to stock your own person dungeon with? Do you have any other stories about finding the pieces of Paranoia in games you didn’t expect them to show up in? Let me know!