"Dungeons with built-in lighting. Whatever next? A set number of encounters per day? Poppycock!"
*harrumph, bristles moustache, rustles Times*
To a true adventurer that flickering torch/lantern/gnome-on-a-stick, or (for the especially fortunate) the tireless eldritch glow of a magical sword, is the last ward protecting your character from the merciless stygian darkness wherein lurk Grues (by which you are likely to be eaten) and other such horrors. If you can see it, you can kill it; if you can't, it can kill you first.
However bad things are; it's worse in the dark.
The fact it that if you cannot see, then you can't adventure. You can't move safely, or fight effectively, or explore in any meaningful way. I've racked my brains trying to think of a single famous explorer, navigator or surveyor who was blind (No! Mark Pollack doesn't count. Hiking to the South Pole 100 years after Amundsen got there isn't exploration, it's just masochism). Dungeoneering isn't simply a glorified form of fumbling about in the dark; it's the illumination of the unknown by the surface dwellers. Yes, demihuman party members might have their nightvision (by whatever name) to fall back on, but that just leaves them acting as seeing eye dogs for an otherwise crippled party. And relying on the goodwill of the mythic underworld to provide you with light (or white sticks) is simply offering up hostages to Fortuna, or to that infinitely less forgiving deity, the DM.
You know, it might even be possible to have a little fun with the wrongbadthinkers who know not the importance of carrying one's own light, and who comprehend not that mastery of light-making is the very foundation and hallmark of civilisation.
Take as a starting point the indie game Closure, a platformer with an interesting design conceit. To whit: "if it isn't illuminated, it ain't there". Here's a video of what I'm talking about:
How about applying something like the above to a section of megadungeon? Call it something cheesy but evocative, like the Chambers of Devouring Night, throw in rumours of a huge cache of adventurer catnip (aka: treasure) somewhere in there, and mark down on your notes something obscure about the observer effect being an actual reified thing in this part of the underworld. What does that mean? See above.
How do the players find this out? Hopefully the hard way when one of the party steps beyond the light, and all that is heard of them is a descending scream. Congratulations folks! You've just wandered into a part of the dungeon where if a thing isn't illuminated and beheld, it simply isn't there (and, yes, that includes the floor).
Now, a proper (i.e.: mean) DM will add to the nerve-fraying tension of keeping to the light by adding in strange noises in the dark, errant gusts of wind, semi-occluded hazardous terrain, and hostile creatures (Grues, Shadows, Vashta Nerada, Hadean sharkbats, or Shutai) who hate the light and want to restore their home to its accustomed darkness. What was that? How do the natives maintain their existence in the absence of light? Echolocation, and they're sick of the sound of one another. Now shut up and roll!
A place where that usually disregarded or hand waved circle of light is the only thing that exists, and the enemy want to snuff it out. Suddenly who has the torch isn't a matter of boring, unfun simulationism; it's a matter of life and death. Suddenly the party are torn between husbanding precious resources, and burning anything they can lay their hands on. Light: sometimes it really is that big a deal in the hostile under-realms.
Heh, I think I'm going to have fun with this.
Thoughts? Opinions? Reasons I should shut up and watch such-and-such a film first?
- Fitz at Shouting into the Void for his interesting post on just how crappy pre-modern illumination is
- Taichara at Hamsterish Hoard for the Shutai
- Rob Kuntz and scottsz at Lord of the Green Dragon for spraying forth delicious braincustard in the Forgotten Temple of Thurizdan retrospective
- James Raggi of LotFP for reminding me that scaring players is part of the job.