Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The Tree Megadungeon and the Mythic Upperworld


About this time last year I had the idea of creating a megadungeon inside a gigantic tree. For some reason today that idea came back to me, spiraling up out of the mists in my brain. I started thinking about the burrows in the roots at its base, and how you could invert the traditional way of doing things and start your PCs off down there, in civilization, ready to explore their way upwards. You could call this, "The Mythic Upperworld". To the people living down in the soil underneath, the tree up there is an alien place of verdant life, light, sap, wind, water, and strange green and brown fecundity. To them in their shadowy, dank, dark world a place of danger, adventure, and legends they are too cowardly or conservative to verify. (This is where the PCs come in.)

What sort of city would exist in the roots of this place? Where would the PCs begin their campaign? I picture a society made up of quiet, furtive things at home in damp loamy soil. Myconids and mold men, of course, but also a variant of the drow - loam elves, you could call them - pale, maybe even blind, hateful of the sun. Creeping spidery things, like neogi and ettercaps. Hook horrors and umber hulks kept as slaves or pets to dig tunnels and fend off enemies. All thing which hate the light green living world above, but who thirst for knowledge of it and its treasures.

To a neogi or loam elf living down in the Great Root City, what would the leaf canopy miles above represent? Heaven, or hell? An abode of the gods, or devils? Most likely the latter. Most likely the green cloud far above would represent fear, hate, danger, misery, death. The top of the Mythic Upperworld, like the bottom of the Mythic Underworld, is simply an infinite abyss. I like the thought of PCs reaching the top of the tree some day and discovering that all the stories they have heard in the Great Root City are mirrored precisely in reverse up there - because for the dwellers in the canopy, hell is all the way back down.

15 comments:

  1. I would put spiders not in the roots but further up as the catch flying creatures in their webs.

    Also, if there is a watery or muddy place in the roots, fishies and crabs could live there. They could also attract the attention of long legged birds who prey on them.

    Another creature on the root could be wingless bird that miss the time when they are winged. They got their wing clipped by the upper people. I think there is the Kenku in D&D and the Arakkoa in Warcraft who symbolizes this trope. Searching I also found the Skeksis so I think this trope is kind of old...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks!

      I think you already know this but one ecosystem that comes to my mind when I think about thing living in tree roots is the mangroves from coastal areas.

      Also, if you don't put parrots (also macaws, parakeets, cockatoo, etc.) as the smartest beings in the Upperworld we will need to talk.

      Delete
  2. Okay first, I apologize for my ignorance of source material.

    There's a great scene in one of the new hobbit movies where they get completely lost in the forest, and that seemed like a "dungeon" to me

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I try to act as though the new Hobbit movies don't exist insofar as it's possible to do so.

      Delete
    2. I like to think of them as an acid trip vaguely inspired by The Hobbit.

      Delete
  3. if you want tree tables

    ive been thinking of a magic faraway tree for dnd for a while myself but it was about 6-9 months away on my to do list

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was also thinking of a magic faraway tree campaign once. I think I blogged about it aaaaaaages ago.

      Delete
  4. I have also considered a tower of babel type megadungeon. One consideration that requires attention for a tower or tree is the PCs will attempt to use fly spells and Teleport ro reach higher levels. This could be a feature, and flying monsters like griffins, manticores, cockatrices, and wyvern could make such attempts to bypass levels hazardous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, definitely a feature. The PCs don't even need spells - climbing a big tree can't be all that difficult as it's bark, not rock, after all. At one time I also had an idea for a cyberpunk megadungeon inside a skyscraper which would have a similar extra dimension to it.

      Delete
  5. Have heard of the old Nintendo game Faxanadu? It might serve as a source of inspiration as it uses the World Tree premise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a feeling somebody recommended it before. Will check it out.

      Delete
  6. Like "being swallowed by a giant monster", there's plenty you can tap into (heh) when exploring a living thing. Is the tree sentient? Are the PCs beneath its notice, etc? What does it mean for a culture to be aware of a manifestly living being that is so much greater that itself? Do you even need gods in that context?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent questions - all equally relevant for my "megadungeon inside a crocodile's mind" campaign setting I'm currently working on! I think this sort of thing is an unexplored treasure chest of ideas for DMs.

      Delete
  7. Three years ago I ran a FATE Accelerated Edition game based on The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men for some of my family at Christmas. The object was to get from the cooling rack on the kitchen table to the angel at the top of the Christmas tree, where they would be granted immortality as lacquered cookie ornaments.

    It went really well, but the thing I was least satisfied with was my own development of the tree "dungeon". I envisioned it as a heavily forested mountainside with a seemingly safe path along the Christmas lights where the Gingerbread Men would be harassed by Nutcracker guards. Or they could go into the dark forest and face more monstrous foes like the giant squirrel ornament. I frequently look back and wonder how I could have turned it into more of a multi-level dungeon or big 3D hex crawl.

    ReplyDelete