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The Origins of the Necropolis
When I wrote up a couple levels for Dragon's Delve, I walked into a dungeon that already had a complete backstory and mythology in place. I didn't have to answer any big-picture questions about why the dungeon--or the PCs--were there, and I didn't have to justify anything to the players who would be using that dungeon. All I had to do was come up with a set of cool encounters that fit the existing outline and purpose and that offered a variety of interesting challenges.
But when Stan! asked if I'd like to write a standalone, low-to-mid level dungeon for Dungeon A Day, the sky was the limit. Sort of. More practically, I could give the dungeon any sort of background I chose, and make whatever assumptions I wanted about why the heroes might be there. That was back in May, and it so happened I'd just recently written an entry on my blog discussing the reasons dungeons might exist. The origin of dungeons was on my mind.
But there was something else on my mind also, something I didn't touch on in that blog entry. Maybe Dragon's Delve sparked it, with its vast gradient of expected character skill. Like any good mega-dungeon, Dragon's Delve starts out with low-level challenges and builds as you go down. There's a reason why only high-level characters end up in the lower levels, and the backstory also provides reason why such characters would likely skip the upper levels if they were new to the place.
And that was what was on my mind: In a more isolated context, why would a low-level dungeon not be targeted by high-level characters? Sure, the rewards aren't great. A 14th-level character, used to pulling in 15,000 gp per encounter, can't really look forward to getting that +4 flaming burst longsword when an entire 2nd-level dungeon's gonna net him maybe 10K. But does every 14th-level character want to keep putting his life on the line just so he can get the stuff that lets him put his life on the line again? That 10K would frankly let the character live like a king for a year, and he wouldn't risk so much as a skinned knee getting it.
Surely, in the great big world, there's a fair number of 10th-level adventurers who have simply decided it's easier to plunder low-level dungeons for free money than it is to risk your life fighting the big-bads for it. And while those guys may have lazied their way out of the hero business, wouldn't they create an environment that makes it hard for low-level adventurers to find appropriate challenges? In such a world, which seemed inevitable once I started thinking about it, what justification is there for any dungeon of, say, 5th level or below, to be anything other than a set of echoing, empty, thrice-looted tunnels?
If you've been following the Necropolis of Pergia, you probably know where this is going. I ran with that, creating a dungeon that was, for all appearances, a set of echoing, empty, thrice- (and then some) looted tunnels.
Appearances, of course, can be deceiving, and I certainly didn't want to deliver a vacant dungeon map. Far from it: I needed the dungeon to not just be engaging, but to overcome the sense that the PCs' adventure there was an afterthought in the dungeon's history, a footnote to the real adventures that might have happened there in the past. Indeed, I didn't want to just challenge the 4th-level characters for which it was written, but to lead them into a set of circumstances that might (if they'd known from the beginning what they were getting into) otherwise have scared them off--to kind of put them in over their heads.
Once I had that premise in mind, the adventure almost outlined itself.
That's the process that led to the Necropolis. Made sense to me; hopefully it will make sense in your campaign, too.
-- Charles M. Ryan