Monday, January 20, 2020

Dungeon Madness

You can wield a Tommy Gun in IA.  It is badass.
Art by Waddany.

Infra Arcana is a wonderful little roguelike... well, not little.  It has thirty floors of ghouls, cultists, flying skulls, witches, oozes, zombies, and other things far worse.  You play an adventurer trying to find answers at the very bottom of a dungeon below a ruined church.  The game is highly lethal and bloody difficult.  Light and time are crucial but exploration of its floors, items and monsters is the only way to get experience points.  Note that you don't HAVE to fight any of the monsters.  You just have to observe them.  You have to play around the knowledge of where the stairway is and balance exploration and time.  It is these elements alone that really solidify the game in my mind as a great example of the OSR dungeon play style.  Treasures and exploration are the key, not straight up fighting the monsters.  The rogue class with the stealth skills is a superb character choice for this reason.  Fire and dynamite are fantastic but should be used carefully, much like in OSR D&D.

I should probably also mention that the game is basically Call of Cthulhu meets Old School D&D meets Blood and Evil Dead II.  If that's not enough of a pitch then I don't know what is.  I once blew Keziah Mason's head off with a pump action shotgun after dispatching Brown Jenkin with a knife to the spine.  Yes, the game is THAT good.  You can get it here.

Watch out for the Rat Things of the lower levels.  They are weak
but can ambush you in a swarm...

One of the very best mechanics is the sanity system.  The longer you stick around a dungeon floor, the more your stress levels begin to rise.  Once it is 100+ you must quickly lower it with light or some other means or suffer a permanent trait of madness.  Reaching the next floor resets your stress back to zero.  Monsters and other supernatural events (such as using magic) make your stress far worse.  I have written on sanity before so I'm not retreading that ground exactly.  What I find super interesting is the relationship between the dungeon and its maddening effect on adventurers who stay for far too long.  Here is one approach that does not require bookkeeping but keeps the fear of madness very palpable for the adventurers.

Failure to escape the dungeon by the end of the session will force the character to remain in the dungeon.  They will return to the party next session but their stay in the labyrinthine chaos that is the dungeon will have afflicted them with a form of Dungeon Madness.  Here are 1d4 examples of Dungeon Madness:

1. Babbling: You babble in an unfathomable language at the most inconvenient of times, loudly enough to alert nearby monsters.

2. Shadows: You are occasionally haunted in the dungeon by 1d3 per dungeon level humanoid shades.  Other former adventurers?  Your dead companions?  Who knows.  They will harass you and deal "damage" that wears you down but can never kill you.  Only you can see and suffer them.

3. Phobia: Roll on the wandering monster table for that dungeon level.  You now possess a phobia of that creature, for some reason, and must save versus fear to deal with them.

4. Nutty Room: You had taken a random empty room and lived in it for a while.  You were subsumed into the chaos of the dungeon and created a ghastly abode.  Revisiting the Nutty Room will trigger an inhuman impulse to continue to serve the dungeon and further "decorate" your lair (treat as a sort of Geas).  Save versus Nutty Room.  This relapse lasts only for the session and will generate tragic/amusing interactions with the rest of the party.     


  1. 'Blood' group photo is very nice.

    This is interesting mechanic about the sanity. At tabletop, without a luxury of computer keeping track, I wonder how it would combine with 'time passes' principle from Angry DM ( where it is players who mostly and tangibly decide on time passage.
    In recent computer games it is similar to Disco Elysium where time passes not on the travel but on interaction.

    1. Yeah that picture is great! Time dice are a solid idea. You could totally have separate "Insanity Dice" mechanic using similar levels of intensity depending on how eldritch the area is. I have not played Disco Elysium yet but I hear excellent things about it.

    2. I didn't like Disco Elysium as much as many other people, but it has some useful ideas and the game is pretty solid.