Campaign Setting: DUNGEONWORLD

Posted: January 18, 2014 in Braak
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(At work, they have banished me from the internet BUT they have not gone to any lengths to make my job appreciably more interesting.  See if you can guess what I’ve been doing with all my cognitive surplus.)


A vast complex of tombs and caves, dungeons and ancient cities, bounded on all sides by impenetrable adamantine rock.  The Dungeonworld is a tower of dungeons, stacked who knows how high and who knows how deep.  Each level has approximately the square area of Germany, with an average thickness of about half a mile.  The levels are usually (but not always) separated by a layer of adamantine rock; likewise the outer wall.  Topographies vary widely from level to level and even within levels:  in some places there are vast, open spaces surrounded by adamantine; in others, there are nothing but dense catacombs and fields of mausoleums left by the enigmatic first inhabitants of the Dungeonworld.  Civilizations have cropped up and died out, turning graveyards into cities and back into graveyards; new nations have carved themselves out of the effluvium of the old, while others have simply colonized what’s been left behind.  How the Dungeonworld came to be, how its people came, and for how long they’ve been here, is all history so old that there are no records –Chrysopolis (the City of Gold), the capital of the Dwarven Polities, has kept records for five thousand years, and the Dungeonworld was ancient even then.

These nations battle for a finite supply of dwindling resources, looting tombs and crypts for magic talismans and enchanted weapons, the mystical puissance of which can be extracted and used to conjure food, water, light and heat.  Kingdoms battle viciously over spontaneously-occurring rivers of fresh water, over mushroom farms and hunting grounds that have grown up in the weird, underground ecosystem.

Above all the kingdoms of Dungeonworld battle for space – access to the levels both above and below, where more resources and greater riches might lie in wait.


On the Median level, after decades of war, the Dwarven Polities, led by the Archimandrite of Chrysopolis, have brokered a piece with the three human kingdoms to the north – sharing the resources of the hundreds of miles of barrowfields between them — and the goblins of the Koblermark – sharing with the goblins the river Acheron, one of the largest sources of fresh water on this level.

The Polities, however, have got nowhere to go – they’re backed up against the outer wall in the west, the demilitarized barrowfields in the north, and the Koblermark to the south.  The only option is east, and into the Delf.

The Delf is a vast gap in the center of this level, extending who knows how many miles deep and who knows how many miles high.  The Archimandrite believes that the Delf can provide access to the lower levels so, in conjunction with the human kingdom, he is sponsoring an expedition down.

Word of the expedition has drawn hundreds of adventurers to Amteropolis (the City without Measure), the Dwarven Polity on the edge of the Delf.  Ametropolis spills over the edge, with newly constructed stoneworks clinging to the side of the pit and slowly creeping downward.  Generally, these new constructions (called the Spill) are the equivalent of slums – shady areas, often very rickety, some of which are prone to just coming loose and falling into the gap.  Thousands of adventurers have begun to gather in the Spill, and nearly a hundred different independent organizations – companies, factions from the Polities and the Kingdoms, independent groups – are looking for members.

Players can choose to form their own party, or work with another party.  If they choose the former, they’ll need a guide.  Either way, they can get equipped from the Chrysopolis – they’ll need food, water, rope (a LOT of rope) and light.

The Dwarven Polities

The area occupied by the dwarves consists of five Polities.  From west to east they are Exopolis (The Outer City), Osteopolis (The City of Bones), Chrysopolis (The City of Gold), Gerontropolis (The City of the Old), and Ametropolis (The City without Measure).  Dwarves are devoutly monotheistic, and worship The God Below (The God Whose Shoulders Bear the World).  Dwarven religion consists of three major sects – the Go-Jian, who believe that all clerical magic is consorting with devils (they produce no magic users at all, and consider all magic a form of heresy); the Dier-On, who believe that the God Below can be called on only for specific purposes (divine and anti-undead clerics only); the Shumi, who believe that the God Below is served by various archons, all of whom may be called on by the devout (any kind of cleric, though this sect is largely confined to Exopolis).  The ruling families of Chrysopolis are all Go-Jian believers, and all magic except that of the Conjuries is forbidden there.

The Polities, to a lesser or greater degree, tend to be structured like vast indoor shopping malls – huge open galleries with shops, houses, palaces, and mansions lining them.  Chrysopolis, by far the richest of the Polities, has artificial suns that burn all the time, and intricate water gardens on every building and every corner.  All of this is powered by the Conjuries – huge factors where the magical weapons, armor, talismans, cloaks, &c. that have been plundered from the enormous barrowfields have their puissance extracted in order to conjure up food, water, fire, and the other necessary elements of civilization.  Exopolis and Ametropolis may have been as open and clean as Chrysopolis once, but now their open galleries are filled with new construction, dense, crumbling warrens for the less well-off of dwarven society.

Each polity is ruled by a Polemarch (warlord), a Presbyter (head of the civic authority), and an Archimandrite (spiritual leader). The Archimandrite of Chrysopolis is the informal leader of all the Dwarven Polities.

The player’s route down follows the waterfall where the Acheron flows over into the Delf.  The route is a series of increasingly smaller and more rickety balconies, stretching down to the limits of Dwarven construction.  Players will have to follow this before they can begin using their own ropes and equipment to start the expedition down the wall.

grimlock, riding a sightless wyvern

grimlock, riding a sightless wyvern

There are three major encounters in part one.  The first is with another expedition who are attempting to eliminate the competition.  Players can fight or negotiate with this group (or fight and THEN negotiate); if they succeed in talking the other group into joining them, that group will probably try and sabotage their ropes and food supplies.  They will fight on the players’ side during the second and third encounters, though.

The second encounter is a raid by the Grimstates:  Grimlocks and ettercap on their wyverns attack the party, attempting to secure slaves (i.e., the players) and food (i.e….the players).  The raid can be fought off, but the players or the guide could be captured by the grimlocks and lead to a tangential quest in the Grimstates.  In either case, the players will need to get back to their expedition and lose the wyverns (probably by just having the wyverns get pissed off at your players and hurling them back at the wall, then flying off) because…

The Grimstates

Across the Delf from the Dwarven Polities are the Grimstates – a number of loosely-aligned bodies politic ruled primarily by Grimlocks – a species of powerful, blind, cannibal humanoids that consider all the Dungeonworld their rightful territory, and all other humanoids their natural slaves.  The Grimstates sustain themselves mostly on raids – to the human and gnomish territories primarily, with occasional incursions against the dwarves of Ametropolis.  Many of the raids are conducted on dragon-bats that fly across the Delf (though this is a fairly serious undertaking – the Delf is VERY far across, and mostly the Grimlocks have to skip along the sides to get to the Polities.

Each individual Grimstate is ruled by a chieftain – some are elected, some just fight their way to the top – who is supported by a variety of different clans.  The internecine politics of the Grimlocks are what prevent them from organizing into a more formidable force; no chieftain in any Grimstate is more than one bad raid from being unseated by his rivals.

Grimlocks worship all the gods of Dungeonworld; they have no spiritual leader or organized system of religion or worship.  Clerics are prophets chosen (presumably) directly by the gods themselves.  They produce few magic-users, which makes their ability to trade with other territories limited, but some of them are excellent craftsmen; the states at the edges of their territory sometimes trade instead of raiding, and these territories even include clans of other species, including humans, halflings, cave-elves, and ettercap.  The grimlocks themselves look like the ugliest, burliest humans imaginable, with thick grey skin, sightless white eyes, and mouths full of big, crooked teeth.  They can produce viable offspring with humans, which suggests a close genetic relationship; weaker grimlocks are pushed to the outskirts of society, and sometimes end up in other territories.

In the center of the Grimstates is the City of the Dead, the top of a vast ziggurat that extends both above and below this level.  It is ruled by Wights, who speak no language that living ears can hear, and whose motives are beyond any living mind’s understanding.  They seem to have some kind of relationship with the Grimstates nearest to them, but the nature of this relationship is mysterious.

The third encounter is Dwarven cultists!  They are attacking from up above!  They have — one of your players will notice as things are about to go very, very south — crude weapons fashioned with shards of adamantite.  (This is impossible, since adamantite is unbreakable…or is it?)  TOO LATE TO WORRY!  The balconies above you are giving way under the stress!  There appears to be a shelf some distance down, do you want to try to jump?

Yes.  Do it.  (Incidentally, anyone who fell off the balconies, and who maybe we thought was dead, could turn up here, having miraculously survived; or, I guess, been critically injured and needing some clericry to get back up to snuff.)


Goblin legionary with a 'kithirk', a throwing iron they can hurl with deadly accuracy

Goblin legionary with a ‘kithirk’, a throwing iron they can hurl with deadly accuracy

Players who explore the ledge will find access, behind the waterfall of the Acheron, to the level directly beneath their main level, and some pretty fun decisions.  This second level is divided up broadly into four sections:  the Goblin Imperium, the Forest of Stone, the City of the Dead, and the Maze.  The players have got to get back up, for a variety of reasons:  for one thing, they don’t know anything about what’s going on down on this level, and pretty much everyone here is going to be hostile to them.  Two, they’ve got a shard of adamantite, and they definitely need to tell someone about it; broken adamantite (which is, again, unbreakable) is a pretty big deal.  Three, it might be nice to let the Dwarven Polities know they’ve got some traitors in their midst.

There are three known paths back up to the superior level:  one is in the middle of the Goblin Imperium, so the players can try to sneak or bribe their way through the Imperium to get access to their route.

Senatum Populaque Goblini

The goblins of Dungeonworld (or, anyway, of THIS part of Dungeonworld – fifty, sixty, a hundred levels in either direction, who even knows?) are terrifyingly formidable.  They are well-organized, smart, tough, extremely dangerous in close-quarters (which is almost everywhere, these days).  The Goblin Imperium is an aggressive, expansionist empire; its beachhead on the Median level is the Koblermark, a vanguard of legionary camps and forts, but its main body is the level down below.  Below the Koblermark, it starts to become clear just the sort of position that the Goblins are in – for as formidable as they are, they’re outmatched by the Gorgons in the Forest of Stone (to whom they’ve just lost access to the Acheron falls, which is their only source of water on their own level), and by the Wights in the City of the Dead.  They can’t navigate the Maze, which is practically a desert of resources anyway.  Their only option is to expand upward into the Median level – so the peace that they’ve secured with the Dwarven Polities is probably not likely to last.

The Goblin Imperium consists primarily of true goblins, who represent the elite ruling citizenry of the Empire, and various federaries – species that are allied with and have been integrated into Goblin society without becoming full citizens.  These are things like bugbears, ettercap, gnolls, even some cave-elves and halflings.  Federaries cannot serve as legionaries, but do serve often as auxiliary troops in the Imperial Army.

The Imperium is largely vertical, stretching down at least three levels below the Koblermark (though it’s not clear how much territory the goblins control on those levels); there, crude conjurations have let the goblins establish extensive farmland, which in turn fuels their vast population – a mathematical problem for which continued expansion is the only answer.

The second is on the other side of the Forest of Stone:  this is the domain of the Gorgonid city, and so players can try to fight or sneak their way through the Forest of Stone (and risk petrification or, you know, death), or attempt to broker a peace with the Gorgons (the Gorgons and the Goblin Imperium are extremely hostile to each other, though – any peace brokered with the Gorgons would immediately end the peaceful relations between the Imperium and the Dwarven Polities).

The Forest of Stone

To the north around the Delf from the Goblin Imperium is the Forest of Stone – an enormous, open gallery, thick with statues of all shapes and sizes (though mostly humanoid).  In the distance are great towers which extend all the way from top to bottom of the gallery, each on the size of a city.  These are the Gorgon Cities, ruled by the Medusae queens.  The Medusae are pretty mysterious, except for their ongoing enmity with the Goblin Imperium.  They exist in a state of uneasy truce – the goblins are unable to overwhelm the gorgons, and the gorgons are unable to (or possibly just disinterested in) destroy the goblins.  For the most part, the Medusae keep to their cities, only periodically sending out servants to harvest the statues (which are then turned by Maedar – the male Meduase – to flesh.  Which is then eaten.  Gross!).

Maedar are very rare – only one is born for every hundred Medusae.  The children of Medusa and Maedar are always gorgons, but occasionally a full-blooded gorgon will be born even to a mixed-pair.  For this reason, Medusae often take mates among humans and elves (the only species they can successfully interbreed with).  These unions for the most part produce gorgonids (male and female in equal numbers), and it’s gorgonids that make up the bulk of the society of the gorgon cities.  The Medusae themselves are exclusively a ruling class (if a Medusa is powerful enough to take a Maedar mate, he’s usually given a place of prominence in her harem, but not any actual civil authority; the gorgons are a strictly matriarchal culture).

Gorgonids can be of any class; Medusa are powerful magic-users only, and it is their magics that keep the gorgon cities supplied with their resources (Medusa eat only meat; we’ve already mentioned where they get it.  Still gross!).  The only two gods worshipped by the gorgons are the Queen of Snakes and the King of Stone, but actual clerics are rare; most gorgons and gorgonids are actually atheistic, and believe that clerical spells are just a form of sorcery.

What would it take to broker a peace treaty with the Forest of Stone?  Not much, actually!  The Medusae don’t seem to want anything except to ensure that the route upward that they have access to isn’t something they’re going to have to fight over – of course, this means that the players will have to either find some way of assuring them that the human kingdoms won’t restrict access (since they control the other end) or that the Dwarven Polities will somehow gain control of it.  Anyway, that’s all they want now.  What they’re going to want once the Polities or the Kingdoms have made themselves permanent enemies of the Goblin Imperium is another story.

The third is in the City of the Dead, which stretches from this level up into the center of the Grimstates.  The problem with this plan is that it first of all entails travelling along the edge of the Goblin Imperium and past the Maze, second of all it leads into the middle of the Grimstates, and third of all it is a civilization of undead horrors who are inimical to all life.  There is no way to sneak through the City of the Dead, so…good luck, if that’s your plan.

Wight Riot

What secrets are hidden in the City of the Dead?  What treasures are guarded by the Wights?  No one knows.  The Wights are dangerous wraith-like things – slightly larger than humans, semi transparent, faceless, clad in ragged, ancient armor.  They are spellcasters and fighters – they carry swords, axes, and polearms, and are also prolific cursers.  They’re usually accompanied by undead servitors –rotting humanoid corpses that are equally well-armed, but somewhat less adept with at cursing (no functional vocal capacity).  Most troublingly, Wights can move through stone as though it were air.

The Wights have been slowly absorbing territory into the Necropolis.  What do they want with it?  No one knows.  The Wights have some kind of relationship with the Grimlocks, and even trade with them.  Why?  How?  No one knows.  The Necropolis itself is a vast, interconnected series of tombs and crypts.  Were the Wights created to guard it?  Are they the ghosts of its builders?  Are the things buried there the original architects of the Dungeonworld?  Listen to me when I say:  no one knows.

The Wights can clearly communicate with each other, probably telepathically, but they sure aren’t talking to anyone else.

The guide (if they’ve managed to keep her alive) gives them a fourth possibility.  She insists that the Maze is contiguous with the catacombs of the Median level – and she knows a route through it that will take them into the cave-elf territory up above. If it’s any kind of motivation, the shard of adamantite that you’ve got actually seems to have runes carved into it – ELVEN RUNES (whoah!)!  Too bad most cave-elves (including your guide) are illiterate.  Still, maybe someone among them knows what’s going on?

Anyway, make a decision.


So, let’s say your players make it back up to the Median level – they either fought or snuck through the Goblin Imperium (maybe in disguise as goblin federaries?) (or they were captured by the goblins who want to use them as the pretext for a renewed war with the Polities, and were traded for other prisoners or escaped), or they fought or snuck their way through the Forest of Stone, or through the City of the Dead, or through the Mazes.

If they went any way but the mazes, they’re going to probably end up making their way back to Chrysopolis.  For one thing, they definitely found access to the lower level, which means they’re entitled to a huge reward.  For another, there are various reasons (both selfless and selfish) that they might want to let the Archimandrite know about that shard of adamantite they’ve found.  If they do this, they’re going to encounter some other problems – namely more of these weird dwarven cultists, who clearly don’t want the Archimandrite to find out what’s going on, and probably also Imperium spies, who think that the players are spies, and want to neutralize them.

Monsters of the Dungeonworld

Dungeonworld wyverns look like a hybrid between a dragon and a bat.  They have no eyes, huge ears, a big leaf-nose, a furred body, and a long serpentine tail.  They navigate by echolocation, and once per combat can emit a stunning screech.  Wyverns can carry up to five human-sized passengers — one pilot, behind the wyvern’s head, and four usually hanging on to leather straps on the front and sides of the animals.  During a raid, the wyverns will dive down and use their sonic screeches to stun enemies, drop their raiders, then fly out and maintain distance.  Wyverns are typically not used directly in combat, and instead they’re brought in as escape measures if the raid goes sour.

Devil-rats are neither devils nor rats, but a kind of furred, wingless and eyeless dragon.  They live primarily in deeper catacombs, away from humanoids, and feed mostly on the oozes and slimes that they find there (though they will eat any living thing they find).  They navigate by sound and smell and are not penalized for darkness, smoke, or bind effects.  Devil-rats have a pouch in their throats that holds the half-digested remains of whatever ooze they last ate; once per combat, they can spray the remains of this ooze at enemies (random effect).

Ooozes, slimes and jellies are all over the place.  A lot of them are able to reproduce (through division), which explains where some of them came from; others seem to bubble up or drip down from cracks in the floor or ceiling.  Depending on your theory of the origins of the Dungeonworld, these things were made by the engineers of the world as its guardians, or they’re the descendents of the original inhabitants cursed to become monstrous, or the primordial progenitors of all the living races of the Dungeonworld.

Ghosts, spectres, ghasts, ghouls, barghests, all of those things are common as hell.  Humans tend to throw their dead into the Delf, while the Goblin Imperium and the Grimstates eat their dead (waste not, want not), but the dwarves, who’ve cleaned out miles of catacombs in their own polities, inter their dead in the empty spaces — almost all in Osteopolis, where the Archimandrites of the other polities are expected to take yearly pilgrimages, in the hopes of placating all the ghosts.  A lot of ghosts still swing by, though, there’s a whole class of dwarven exorcists who deal specifically with this problem.

a devil rat, properly neither a devil, NOR a rat

a devil rat, properly neither a devil, NOR a rat

What happens is that the Archimandrite will offer the players a mission to go into the territory of the cave-elves and see if they can find out what’s going on – if the players go up through the Maze first, then they’ll have the same encounters, just on the way BACK to Chrysopolis, instead.  What they’re going to do is get some information out of the cave elves either by violence, or by ingratiation, or whatever – that a cave-elf sorcerer had somehow (through a process none of the cave-elves know or even really care about) managed to create a spell that let him splinter off shards of adamantite.  He practiced it using the obelisks in cave-elf territory (which, guess what?  Those exist.  It turns out the cave-elves may, many thousands of years ago, had the ability to manipulate adamantite.  Is it possible that THEY built the dungeonworld?  Modern cave-elves do not know.  Or care.)


On the Median level, and some of the levels above and below, the closest thing there is to traditional elves are the cave-elves.  They are…not like regular elves.  They’re huge, for one thing – seven feet is short for a cave-elf.  And they’re both strong and uniquely flexible and double-jointed, able to dislocate and relocate joints with ease.  They have pale-to-translucent skin, often with a pinkish or bluish hue and completely white eyes.  They’re mostly illiterate, and live in loose-knit tribes or clans.  On the Median level, their territory consists primarily of maze-like catacombs where they hunt oozes and jellies, and plunder tombs to trade with the nearby Grimstates.  Some cave-elves, bored with their life of hunting and gathering, have migrated to other territories, where they’re accepted with only some reservation – cave-elves are off-putting and dangerous, but superb guides through the dungeons.

Like the grimlocks, cave-elves are blind, and use their other senses to compensate.  They worship deities that are personifications of features of the Dungeonworld (Iron Chains, Stone Doors, Cold, Dark, the Dead, &c.), and have nothing like an organized religion.  Magic-users are rare (mostly sorcerers, or other like classes with innate magic ability).  If there was once an elven civilization that they’ve fallen from, no cave-elf has any memory or even any legend of it – they believe that they were the first people of the Dungeonworld, and that they were born in their exact forms.

Cave-elves wear leather armor and furs and carry some weapons, except for the Agaudhri, who train to fight empty-handed and are the equivalent of monks.  The Agaudhri are known for being both fair and disinterested in politics, and are often appealed to in order to settle disputes between clans. (You’re wondering, where do they get the furs from?  Well, the answer is “from the giant rats.”  Also the devil-rats, which are properly neither devils, nor rats.

The problem with all this is that, what?  The cave-elf who could do this is gone.  Where?  Why?  Well, the natural assumption is that the grimlocks took him in one of their raids, but if they players ask for a description, they’ll discover it was dwarves.  Dwarves!

The players will have to go back to the polities, only to discover that in their absence, something of a coup occurred; the Archimandrite of Chrysopolis has been deposed, all the polities are under martial law, in command of the Polemarch of Exopolis (Cleon the Mad – he’s called the Mad because of his unorthodox tactics during the war with the Goblin Imperium, not for this particular reason, or because anyone thinks he is crazy [even though actually he is crazy]).  It shouldn’t be too hard to guess that the raid on the cave-elves and Cleon’s ascent to power are connected.  The players need to track that captured cave-elf into the westernmost edge of Exopolis, where they’ll find the bore. (At the very least because, while Cleon is in power, there’s no chance of them getting their reward for discovering a Downward Passage.)

This is a gigantic drill, powered by magic, with a huge bit made out of shards of admantite.  Cleon has got this idea that instead of going down, he’s going to drill straight through the outer wall.  Players have got a couple options here – they can try to sneak in and disable the drill, or sneak in and activate it.  They can find out what’s happening and decide to just high-tail it.  They can fight Cleon’s guys and try to steal or disable or activate the drill that way.  One way or another, though, the Goblin Imperium is going to invade, and whatever the players decide to do, Cleon’s guys will activate the drill.

The Black Madness

Except for those that are born blind (grimlocks, cave elves), all humanoid species will eventually go insane without a few hours exposure to light.  The general rule of thumb is creatures with darkvision can go for a month, infravision can go for two weeks, and those with neither can go for about three days.  Every period spent without light causes a character to play at one level below.  When a character hits zero, she’ll go insane, and probably run off deep into the catacombs where they can join the Nations of the Mad and…oh, hold on though, that’s module two.

This does not have the effect that anyone anticipates.  The drill hits the outer wall and starts everything shaking.  Eventually, it explodes, and brings down huge sections of Exopolis with it.  Players will need to escape the collapsing walls and tunnels, WHILE avoiding both the goblin legionaries and the dwarven cultists.


The players have got no choice but to flee.  If they head into the Imperium, they can join the legions (either in disguise, or just straight up join them, I mean, the legions pay good money, and unless the players are dwarves specifically, they probably aren’t going to have loyalty to the polities).  The legions will take them on an invasion of Petropolis and Chrysopolis, looting and plundering on their way.

If the players flee into Osteopolis or Chrysopolis first, they’ll end up having to have to fight and run from the legions, into the Barrowfields.

The Barrowfields

The Barrowfields are a resource between the Dwarven Polities and the Human Kingdoms.  They are basically exactly what they sound like – fields and fields of tombs.  At the very top level they seem to be in an open gallery, with an impossibly huge, arched stone roof.  They tombs stretch for hundreds of miles, as well as many, many layers down.  The language that appears on the crypts (called, hilariously, “Cryptic”) is foreign to everyone.  No one knows a word of it, or even what the letters sound like.  The statues on the crypts are of humanoids with broad shoulders and great tusks, usually garbed for war.  Sometimes they have large horns or antlers.  Sometimes, they are depicted in the company of great beasts of a variety of shapes.  No one knows who these guys are, or how long ago they built these tombs, but there must be literally millions of them.

Millions of tombs, and many of them are loaded with treasure – gold and silver, gems, and, most importantly, magic items.  These are mined by the inhabitants of the Polities and the Kingdoms, and their magics are extracted and turned into usably product (usually food and water).  The barrowfields are not particularly dangerous — though there are ghouls, and ghosts, and the occasional revenant from that long-departed people – but they are clearly finite.  As the demands for magic for the Conjuries grows, so does anxiety in dwarven society about what will happen when the last tomb is opened.

The players can decide to try to help get the refugees from the fallen Polities to safety, or they can try to swing it on their own.  There are dangers in the barrowfields, though, so maybe staying with the others isn’t such a bad idea?  On the other hand, the legions aren’t hunting down small parties, and besides, a small group is going to have a better chance of getting into the Kingdoms at the other end.

Which is a good point.  How WILL the human kingdoms react to a half a million refugees crossing their demilitarized zone?  Well, did your guys get the gorgons on your side?  How are you relationships with the human kingdoms?  What about the Grimstates?


One way or another, they’re going to get drafted into service yet again, either by the Kingdoms, who want to find a place to send the dwarves, or the dwarves, who need a new place to live, or the Imperium, who still need new lands to conquer.  Good news is, the cave-elves have an answer for you – they know where there’s a way UP.

Do you want to be at in the party that goes to the next level up?  That finds at the top of an agonizingly long stair a vast sea, with thousand-foot high pillars emerging from it?  (Hey, good news, fresh water!  Bad news, when you finally get to it – it’s salt water.  Does the salt somehow get pulled out, as the water passes to the lower level, to become the source of the Acheron?)

Also, wait, where is the Delf?  (Weirdly, it doesn’t exist on this level at all.  If you had a really tough wyvern, maybe you could fly up to the next level, but it wouldn’t be this one; it might not even be the one directly above it.  What the hell, man?  That’s weird!)

Also, also, what’s at the top of those gigantic pillars, and why do they look like dragon roosts?


Playable Races

Gorgonids are the offspring of a Medusa or Maedar and a human.  They lack the natural powers of their parents, but do have infravision, an affinity for magic, and above-average strength.  Female gorgonids do have snakes for hair, and can take “venomous hair” as a feat (once per combat, the gorgonid can have her hair bite someone she’s grappling with, inflicting a “daze” effect; rogues can apply this poison to their knives); they can also take “petrifying gaze”, which is a daily power that temporarily turns an enemy to stone.  Male gorgonids have no hair, and can take “stone to flesh” as a feat, a daily power that lets them undo the effects of petrification

Cave-elves are huge, physically powerful, and unusually dexterous.  They are naturally blind, but their other senses compensate up to a distance of about thirty feet with no penalty.  They’re immune to blind, smoke, and shadow effects that obfuscate vision, but can be blinded by auditory hallucinations or loud noises.  Cave-elves can take the “Escapist” feat, which gives them a bonus to escaping from bonds, or squeezing through small apertures.  They also receive a bonus to dungeoneering.

Grimlocks are the burly, cannibal cousins of humans.  They have high strength and constitution, and like cave-elves, are blind but can use their other senses to compensate.  They also receive bonuses to dungeoneering, as well as initiative.  Grimlocks can naturally consume, without harm, nearly any kind of meat, in nearly any state – cooked, raw, rotten, whatever.  Both grimlocks and cave-elves are immune to the black madness.

dungeonworld 2

The Level Median

1. The Barrowfields.

2.  The Dwarven Polities:  Exopolis, Osteopolis, Chrysopolis, Gerontopolis, Ametropolis

3.  The Human Kingdoms

4.  Oh, hm, I don’t know yet.

5.  Gnomes live here, they farm mushrooms and slime.  The gnomes also train demolitionists, who are typically quiet, intense, soft-spoken — daring lunatic demolitionists might be fine for some, but when you live IN THE MINE, you’re going to be a lot more careful.

6.  The Lictorium.  This is miles and miles of cells, all roughly human-sized, with iron gates and manacles.  They are free-standing, about twenty stories high, with the space between the cells an open gallery.  No one knows who built it (or FOR whom); some folks explore it to loot all the iron.

7.  The City of the Dead.

8.  The Grimstates

9.  Don’t know this one, either.

10.  Hm.

11.  Look, I can’t think of EVERYTHING.

12.  The Koblermark — the beachhead for the Goblin Imperium on this level.

13.  Cave-elf territory.  This is mostly crypts, though if you go down deep you start to find places that look like residences.  At the very bottom is a huge room with a great brass orrery, which is SUPER weird — first of all, no one is sure what it is, since obviously no one in the Dungeonworld knows what stars or planets or the sun is.  But second of all, why would you even build one HERE?

14.  The Delf.  It is a huge chasm, hundreds of miles across.  Wyverns can’t cross it in a single trip.  Don’t fall into it.

  1. braak says:


    The Human Kingdoms actually consist of humans, (regular) elves, half-elves, and halflings. Dwarves just call all non-dwarves “human”. (Except for goblins [“dactyloi”].) For their part, the Human Kingdoms, which are thoroughly tribal, regard elven and halfling tribes as a particular familial lineage of human, rather than as a separate species.

    Goblins refer to all human-sized species as “gangles” or “gangleri” — the implication that because of their height, they are not naturally adapted to survival in the Dungeonworld.

  2. braak says:


    Go-Jian Dervish — a dwarven hybrid fighter/spellcaster (like a paladin), with a suite of spells designed to nullify, interrupt, or mitigate magical effects.

    Imperial Legionary — available in goblin (legionary) and non-goblin (auxiliary); a figher class with specialization is group tactics and close-quarters fighting.

    Imperial Centurion — as above, but now with bonus effects to nearby allies!

    Beast-warden — a fighter class with special abilities related to the taming and training of the local Dungeonworld animals; the only class that can successfully pilot grimlock wyverns.

  3. Nathan says:

    What system are you going to run this under? If nothing else it’d make it easy to gauge how valuable your suggested racial feats are and provides an easy answer for the next couple of question;

    Is there “raw mana” and is that as much as a sealed system as everything else? Does a wizard need to draw mana from a minor magical item in order to cast a spell? Would a wizard be able to buy an ingot/ dram of magical something in order to have a fuel source for the spells they cast?

    What do they make their fabrics out of?

    The obvious answer for the unfilled locations are resources that are unaffiliated with any of the major powers and generally uninhabited, or exist in a societal state that makes their incorporation impractical into the larger socio-political mess that goes down across the course of the campaign. (Obvious statement is obvious.)

    What immediately comes to mind for inhabited areas are:
    The Miconds (Fungus monster|people/things. A simple Enders Game style hive mind set up justifies their non-integration into the rest of the world or they’re not sentient at all and act like a .)
    The Chuul, (Giant sentient lobster. Which isn’t a good choice given the rarity of water but they could be incorporated into the gas ponds mentioned below.)
    The Neogi (Spider|Eel monsters. Their “classic flavour” is basically the Frengi on steroids.)
    A megalith (Another word for a Genius Loci. Not necessarily hostile. Just hidden.)

    They rarely show up, are often flavoured as being insular societies when communication is possible and have largely incomprehensible mindsets that make interaction difficult. They don’t have to occupy an entire area but their presence is an easy plot hook. (Because you don’t have enough of those. /jk) Though that would make the setting slightly cluttered.

    For non-inhabited regions;
    I’d like to suggest that area five started as an enclosed cave system that required tunneling and mines to reach when the area was first being excavated/ prospected. The caves were filled with various dense gasses, The few useful gasses are used to fuel the alchemy and arcane-ist type creations in setting. It’s as ever a valuable resource that they are the best able to use through having the longest exposure to how it works. It stops the players from trying real world science because the tech that is around works using the same principles using a different mechanism and can act as a setting equivalent to large bodies of water (Taking a raft out across a pool of coloured Sulfur HexaFluoride equivalent could be a common way of passing through large caverns.)

    It’d be an almost empty area. With even fewer proper settlements and overnight caves prepared before hand in order facilitate transit. They’d need to be entirely selfcontained (Would people know about the oxygen producing processes of fungus? Even if it’s not in as many words.) and require some kind of airlock system which could stretch suspension of disbelief a bit but I can’t see it being a problem. If gas exchange, pressure and pistons (As opposed to steampunk style boilers.) are used as simple machines they’d need to work out an air-tight seal quickly.

    Zone 9 is immediately visually distinct from the other spaces in that the rock that makes up the caverns, caves and tunnels are limestone (and by extension marble) and sandstone. The morphology of the zone supplies the various cultures in the area with useful minerals like salts, gypsum and other potassium carriers, various boride compounds, and extremely limited amounts of clays and chalks. The lootable settlements found in this sector are Atlantis, greek visuals and the like bronze and copper statues. Lots of primary colours on the items that that are found.. (I’ve been writing this for a while and I’m sleepy. Sue me.) It’s also been the source of quite a few discoveries across the years in the form of, strange fossils and skeletons that uniformly foil the normal necromantic formula.

    Zone 11 could be the side of a long dead volcano (Based on the scale of the map you could draw a rough line between where the borders meet on 9-10 and 12-13 and have the slope meet the adamantium there. Making the tunnels and caverns behind that line something closer to what is seen elsewhere with the “natural” tunnels in dungeonworld. It’d still be bigger than Olymups Mons but it may be plausible.) Giving this zone the largest open cavern outside of the Abyss.

    I’m not sure what plot hooks/ sidequests/ what could fit into the last two (Sorry).the non-scavenged resource, non-tomby aesthetic of these suggestions may make them less than useful.

    This is really interesting though. Looking forward to module 2

  4. braak says:

    These are good questions. I started out under the assumption that it’d run on D&D 4th edition (just because that was what I played last), but I started out long ago on Rifts, and have always preferred that raw magic system. It’s thematically very appropriate to this setting, of course, so I wonder if there’s actually a way to hybridize it.

    The production of a “raw-magic” resource could have other potential uses, too. In addition to being a supply of magic that maybe natural spellcasters could supplement themselves with, maybe there’s a way that non-spellcasting players could use it to gain temporary magical effects or something. Hm. (This also provides some good material for a few more plot-hooks and side-quests.)

    The question of fabric is an interesting one. I think the most likely answer is that the most common fabrics are varieties of silk, produced in massive amounts from a number of different species of local worms and spiders. (Even if areas can be, at great length, magically converted into a kind of farmland, that land would be far too valuable for producing food to waste it growing something like cotton or flax.) Maybe we can posit a species of silk worm that has a symbiotic relationship with certain species of fungus.

    Also, I wonder if people have herds of giant rats, and shear them to produce rat-wool? (Or bat-wool!)

    These other suggestions are all good — the presence of some of the creatures could be minimal, if things start to get too crowded, but we can always reserve the implication that they’ve got a larger population on a higher or lower level of the dungeon (that there are only four known access routes to other levels in this module doesn’t mean that those are the ONLY routes — and there are any number of reasons why an access route might magically, or just physically, cross a level before it opened out; the Neogi might guard a downward shaft that has no egress into the level directly below, just passes all the way through to the level below that, for instance).

    Hm. I especially like these ideas about area five. You could do some interesting side-quests in there that required players to quickly get from lock to lock, and to carefully avoid disrupting the atmospheric integrity of the caves. However, I’m very interested in the idea that there’s not really any part of Dungeonworld that isn’t specifically built, except for places that have fallen down or collapsed.

    Is it possible that this was an area built by a species adapted to a radically different atmosphere than us, and that it was sealed up in order to keep that atmosphere contained? They, like the other early inhabitants, could be long gone, but they left behind some of the technology that they created to keep their air sealed up tight. (This area could ALSO have originally required tunneling in order to access it, if the immediate surroundings have been subject to cave-ins. Tunneling their way into Zone 5 could be where most of the gnome demolitionists cut their teeth.)

  5. Nathan says:

    Haven’t played Rifts so I can’t give an informed opinion but 4th edition is probably a good pick. Combat is at its best in close quarters, it’s simple enough and modular enough to handle the homebrew and re-skinning that you’d have to do in order to incorporate your original concepts.

    How are you going to implement the Go-Jian Dervish? Core 4th doesn’t have much in the way of sustained magical effects. (Though from what I understand about Rifts it’d work well there.)

    You could give it the ability to nullify encounter and daily powers that come from the arcane power source and bust down sustained rituals but they’re extremely powerful and situational respectively. .

    You could tie it into the raw magic reagent idea (And making them available to everybody is a fantastic idea btw) So a Dervish would be a partial threat to everything that takes advantage of that mechanic while supporting its use amongst the players. And then they get to wreck the day of any opposing spellcaster on top of that.

    I love the batwool idea. (A dog sized Woobat perhaps?) Apparently really thick silk is a good insulator and we all know that chestnut about the toughness of spider silk. Silk as a masterwork equivalent for light/ heavy armour? It’d take the pressure off the more metal intensive parts of armoury and (possibly) make for an interesting visual twist; leather is the finest, most expensive fabric because it involves slaying one of the few domesticated animals they have. Animals that put a disproportionately large strain on societal resources with the smaller fields and slower rates of production that are required to supply them with food. The end product has some things going for it as well. Leather is warmer and longer lasting than wool and if silk is commonplace it’s easy to assume that it would be slightly gauche to use it as formal wear. (I also find something funny about the concept of a leather ballgown complete with old style bustle.)

    And you can eat it [s]if[/s] when worse comes to worse. Which is always a plus.

    It’s absolutely plausible that the shelters in zone 5 are left over from a defunct civilization (The question as to how they were built and how old they are is unimportant. Meaning that the logistics’ of their survival till the time of the campaign are also unimportant.) I’m not sure why they would have done it though. If hypothetical non-humans are adapted to life in the gas environment why would they have locks inside that environment suited to other species?

    The obvious answer is that they serve the same purpose now as they did then. (Overnighter caverns for species that aren’t adapted to the gas environment.)

    The interesting (Or at least more detailed) answer is that while most did serve that purpose (And had the added bonus of keeping trading caravans small and limiting their movement) there are other much larger locks of different designs. All marked with signs of battle and with their integrity broken (Acid scars in the rock primarily. I can’t imagine much would be left after all this time and other scavengers passing over the area.) These ones were used to quarter whatever army destroyed or were destroyed by the gas natives.

    That would also imply that some of the cave ins sealing off zone 5 would have been intentional as impromptu permanent airlocks when the more technologically advanced locks failed.

  6. braak says:

    I think the Dervish — and I’d have to look at the exact mechanics of it again — but maybe something like a fighter that has a number of aura effects or attacks that are coupled with either resistance to damage from magical sources, or impose penalties to hit from magical sources, or something like that. Maybe a native resistance to damage from magical sources, combined with a threat priority aura, &c.

    I’m not sure how easy this is to do strictly within the rules provided (I don’t remember, off-hand, if all magical spells have got a category tag in them that distinguishes them as spells).

    So, in practice it just means that while the Dervishes around, spell effects hit less often, do less damage, and last for less time, until they can find the caster and pummel them.

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