The ideas below come from a chat with MoonHunter. They may be strange, they may be even sick in some ways. Enjoy them.
At the beginning was the dungeon
A dungeon as we often know it, is a confined place usually underground, existing for the sole purpose of being visited and massacred through heroical adventurers. But is it not too strange for so many dungeons to exist, with monsters and traps and treasure just waiting on you?
Perhaps all the dangers are no chance… someone created the dungeon with much care. Someone looks at what happens, and creates a new one. Why, you ask?
The Dungeon Master is a powerful being, long living, maybe immortal. He seeks action like few others do. If computers would exist, he would play the games forever. But he must create his games with his bare hands, usually through magic.
He creates all the traps, lures or summons the monsters, and hides the treasure. He enjoys the game, observing what the mortals do and how they survive. Maybe he is behind every wall and door, and deciding what happens if they push the switch. Or maybe he just observes, stays fair in not-intervening.
- The Art of Necromancy can revive monsters over and over.
- The Art of Illusions can even substitute traps, creates the results when someone presses the red spot. It can even create monsters anew, with ‘Phantasmal Force’.
- A way to observe is necessary at all points.
Option 1: The Conflict
But what if there is more than one such Dungeon Master? You guess it, sooner or later one sentence will sound… “Hah, I bet the Juggernauts can take on any of your silly dungeons!”
Maybe they are two friends. Maybe they have been rivals for long years. Maybe there is a whole race of long-living beings, which play the Game as a ritual or entertainment.
Ever got invited into a dungeon? Yes, THAT mysterious guy in the hooded cloak in the bar. If you pass this test, you may get ‘invited’ again. Maybe you are being ‘prepared’ without knowing, for the time when all will be decided. Both Masters choose a favourite dungeon, and let the parties of heroes inside.
It’s time to tell you the truth: you are sponsored. Did you think all the gold and magical weaponry just lies around waiting for you? Did you not notice all those ‘Random Encounters’? “Trolls on that road? But it is completely safe. Caravans pass it easily every day!”
What’s more, the heroes may feel a slight push at times they don’t cooperate. It may become downright forcing into action. Much time and care has been invested into them.
On the positive side, the heroes occasionally get information they should not get easily. Maps fall in their hands, mysterious notes and signs warn them of traps and monsters. They shall survive afterall.
You should at least double all the unnatural goings-on if The Final Dungeon is in sight. Maybe the Masters have an agreement, but a bit of cheating or attempted sabotage can be expected.
Did you ever seen rats bred and trained to cross their little mazes faster? Imagine something bigger…
Option 2: TV
Now it gets sick.
The Dungeon Masters are from another dimension, where your exploits are used as “reality entertainment”. And since reality is “boring” they would use magic to “spice it up”. Maybe there is no magic in their world.
This means that you will meet more bizzare creatures and effects, often without relevance to the ‘real life’. And you will be more rewarded if you use flashy ‘special effects’, and cool combat maneuvers. And the more the better.
But you don’t know you are on TV… espeically since your reality does not have TVs. Wounds and death feel real enough. This is Surivivor + Fear Factor + Real World all rolled into one! A fantastic show by all accounts. You have to be prepared on some people to cross the border. Your teenager fan may want to get pregnant with you. The guy that lost all his money on bets is out on revenge. People will try to manipulate the results. The company will try to hinder them, but may have their own plans. Someone lucky wins a chance to operate a monster, so you find a mindless worm to behave surprisingly intelligent…
Some people will cross the border permanently, and become inhabitants of your world. Some may enjoy the simple life of a farmer, but some could seek to dominate the world, not that hard with superior technology. The hooded guys in those bars are of course just talent-seekers, to find more talents for the show. What if they like it here? Who will be sent after them?
High-Level Option: The show lost popularity, and was abandoned. The heroes are suddenly left on their own. No dungeon seems to have the challenges it used to. But some old locations can reveal strange artifacts of unknown powers, abandoned by their users. What if you get into their world?