Something has been feasting on the souls of the dead. In my campaign, dark elves are feeding souls to the Beast in return for eternal youth. As long as this continues, the dead return as Larvae and cannot be raised. The party discovered a portal that transfers them to the mouth of a cave where the beast lives, carved in the visage of a great demon and with tooth-like stalactites and stalagmites at the entrance. In my campaign, this portal is in a dark elf lair. A night hag poaches larva from her headquarters in the brain, but is not really important to the quest. The party needs to destroy the beast itself to stop the unholy rituals of the dark elves once and for all.
The original idea for this dungeon arose when I was collecting images of “hell mouths” in medieval art, after noticing the theme in Bosch and Brueghel – especially Brueghel’s Mad Meg. I have also heard of a convention game run by Bruce Galloway, the (in)famous author behind the book Fantasy Wargaming, that involved a dungeon that was actually the inside of a dragon. I suppose the Star Wars scene where the Falcon parks inside a space eel, and movies like Fantastic Voyage and Inner Space are influences, as is the board game Circulation which I owned as geeky lad, and of course the wonderful anatomical illustrations in old Nation Geographic magazines and Time-Life books. The computer game Doom is an influence, as is H.R. Geiger’s art, including Aliens. I have also found several One Page Dungeons with similar ideas about a dungeon that is shaped like body or is actually a body of some kind. Ultimately I suppose that embellishments of the biblical tale of Jonah and the whale, and also the Norse myth of Ymir, have roles as well.
I owe a big debt of thanks to Scottsz for providing feedback in the early stages, and to my gaming group for play-testing this. Thanks Tom, John, Ross, Adam, and Matt!
Suggested setups to port this into your game:
- A pocket dimension entered through a gate, magic mirror, hell mouth, green devil face on a wall of your dungeon, etc.
- A meteor shower left drops an egg-shaped object, which incubates into this dungeon after a few weeks. If/when the party defeats the dungeon, another shower drops a dozen more eggs. Better find them before they hatch.
- Local shepherds have been disappearing. A party of young nobles out picnicking disappeared too. Locals murmur about the weird cave uncovered by a flood last spring.
- A tarasque was imprisoned in the earth long ago by an ancient wizard. It swallowed a MacGuffin which the party wants or needs. They plan to dig up the remains. But it has transformed into…this.
- A dead party member or important NPC can be raised only if their soul is retrieved from somewhere in “that weird cave,” or from the Abyss, which the cave is a portal to.
- Mad Meg, a harridan and adventurer, recently returned to town laden with gold and tales of great treasure ripe for the picking.
- Monsters have begun to appear and ravage the land, and they are surging out of a weird cave lately uncovered by a sinkhole, mining, or geologic events.
I will be ‘publishing’ a fuller form of the scenario as a free pdf suitable for digest-sized booklet printing, or possibly as a submission to a free site or zine, when it is done, with stats for basic D&D/LL/WFRP as I played it. It was tough removing all game stats for the OPD. I resorted to hedging a lot of things as “may” do this or that to avoid mentioning saving throws. “Slight damage” rather than d4 for various effects like the freezing lung and boiling blood.
The map is, in my mind, the weak link right now — I just drew it on graph paper and my penmanship is horrid. I hope I’ll get a chance to draw something better, or have my existing scan cleaned up a little, before the April 1 deadline but the text, I think, is pretty much finished. I think in some ways the map is the least important part of the dungeon anyway — the relationships of rooms and halls matter but the map is for the DM’s eyes only anyway. It’s not exactly Jaquayed to hell but there are a number of loops and forks, so the thing can be explored by many different routes. The main thing is the party really needs to be sharks. No sitting still and holing up to heal in a room with spiked doors. This thing is a hostile environment and will kill you if just stand around.
What I hope sets this apart from other ‘corporeal’ dungeons I’ve seen is the tables: Gastric (random) events, which is really two tables in one since you use a different die depending on what the PCs have done; Antibodies (wandering monsters); and Tumors (Spontaneous hazards). The dungeon will react to the players and really by re-keying the few fixed encounters you could run this over and over.
The idea of changing dungeon appeals to me, but changing the actual map during play is daunting; I hope the randomly appearing hazards (“tumors”) accomplish a similar effect.
Here is the latest version of the PDF file: Mike_Monaco_The_belly_of_the_beast_OPD