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,
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
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