Monday, July 5, 2010

The Dungeon Is Hell

While I was mowing the other day I had a realization: The Dungeon is Hell.

Now, not in the "war is hell" kind of sense,*** though many a player losing a PC in "Tomb of Horrors" will feel it in that sense, I think. But, as I was mowing some concentric circles (I mow oddly) I got to thinking about hell (I hate mowing) and Dante's conception of the afterlife and I realized that it was a 9 level dungeon...

It's, in fact, the classic dungeon. A very brief (almost handwaved by the wilderness trek to the entrance of the dungeon. The characters enter and descend from layer to layer (levels anyone?) going past worse and worse sinners (stronger monsters) to the deepest level wherein dwells the BBEG (and, yeah, the ORIGINAL BBEG, right? Lucifer himself). And once they've beaten the "goal room"...there's more - a portal to another land (Purgatorio) and further adventures...

I mean, Divine Comedy could almost be the original adventure railroad, right? What choice does Dante have but to keep going thru Hell, Purgatory and finally Paradise... ascending levels...well, you get the picture.

I realize that Dante and Virgil didn't battle their way through Hell or anything. But from a design standpoint, it strikes me that this is really the way dungeons are designed - and maybe for good reason. Dante is part of our Western Cultural DNA. His concept of Hell has permeated our culture in a way that when I say that Walmart is the Third Circle of Hell, people who I know have never read Dante get it.*****

Now, this whole thing might be old hat to everybody else (heck, it's probably in Underworld and Wilderness Adventures in the 3LBB - or Holmes Basic or something) but it was a revelation to me. And it explains why having the dungeon structured this way (B4 "The Lost City" Zargon's Lair, as a prime example) "feels" right to me.

The Dungeon really is Hell....

*** One of my favorite exchanges from the series M*A*S*H goes something like this:
Someone: "War is hell."
Hawkeye: "War isn't hell. War is war and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse."
Fr. Mulcahy: "How do you figure, Hawkeye?"
Hawkeye: "Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?"
Fr. Mulcahy: "Well, sinners, I suppose."
Hawkeye: "Exactly, Father. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them - little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander."

*****The third circle is gluttony, after all - and doesn't Walmart represent, at least a little, our cultural obsession with more?

1 comment:

Trey said...

Huh. I've never thought of that before, but it fits. Good insight.