Thursday, November 7, 2013

From the bottom up?

I know it's a trope that has existed since the first days of D&D, but sometimes I wonder if it makes sense. maybe someone out there can explain it to me.

Why is it that the further you go into a dungeon, the tougher the challenges should be?

I ask this because I am embarking on something new for me. In the past, when I run a game, I do so from basic notes, maybe a few graphics and maps, and not much else. I have never actually ran a published module (though I have played in many). And now I find myself wanting to actually write one. Actually, a few.

So, I have kind of been reading advice on how to go about doing it, and in the Swords & Wizardry rule book, they talk about the above-mentioned format: Challenges get tougher as you go down. But, what would happen if you started at the bottom and had to work your way up? Has this been done before? I can only assume it has, I just haven't seen it personally.

Logically, you wouldn't be able to put your high HD creatures at the bottom, and your low HD creatures at the top. But does it make sense to have the low ones at the bottom, and the extra-powerful at the top? I think it would work, if you build a background that lends itself to that.

I mean, the surface is where the riches are, from a monster's point of view. So, logically, the more pwerful monsters would dominate and stake their claim to the surface routes. In turn the less powerful monsters would be pushed in, or down as it were. They would be forced to live off the scraps of the more powerful denizens of the upper levels. They would become somewhat isolated, creating microcosms of society on their own.

And this last part is the thing that interests me the most. Being so isolated makes those less powerful creature more apt to develop along abnormal lines. Who's to say that the Kobolds in that great cavern would be so hostile to a force of adventurers who appear in their midst, if they appear to be headed up? The party might find unlikely allies...even friends down there.

Anyways, these are some ideas I am looking at exploring with my adventure series.


  1. The worst monsters are at the bottom because the further you descend into the dungeon, the further you get from the world and the closer you get to the abyss.

  2. I've always assumed that the reason for the more danger as you go lower is because the deeper dungeons have access to the Underdark where the worst monsters lair. The upper levels are the homes to weaker monsters because they don't have the resources to delve deeper and confront the greater threats.

    It's a theory.

  3. Both very compelling arguments. Hrm. What if the lower caverns just "dead end"? As in, there's not access from them except from above? Or maybe the lower levels aren't really that far down. Mind you, the adventure I have in mind is fairly small in scope, and I'm thinking that the caverns I will have the party explore are pretty isolated.

    For now. :)

  4. WotC published a book for 3e, Lords of Madness, which presented a different encounter structure similar to what you've suggested above. The idea was basically that with mutant-alien-aberrant adventures, the heroes were likely to face many of the toughest monsters after very little build-up.

    If I remember correctly, part of the idea was to scare the ever-loving crap out of the players with an overwhelming encounter, and leave them shell-shocked and watching over their shoulder whenever another encounter came up.

    Just some thoughts. ;)


    1. Oh, I like that! The premise behind this adventure is that, after a prelude session, the party finds themselves in a dark cavern, deep underground, with no idea of where they are, or how to get out. Being 1st level characters, this would be very problematic in the traditional model.