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Alternate Themes in Dungeon Crawler (Let's Throw Fantasy out the Window)

15 replies [Last post]
Toa Lewa
Toa Lewa's picture
Joined: 10/31/2013

Zag24 recently posted an idea about making a Steampunk styled dungeon crawl game. This was very interesting to me, as I am currently working on a dungeon crawl as well. However, I have only thought about making it fantasy themed. I see now that there are many alternatives to consider, and I do not want to limit myself to only a fantasy genre. Let me give you my current theme, and let's see if you can give me an alternate twist to this game's theme (preferably sci-fi).

My current theme is as follows. As a 30 year old dwarf in the kingdom of Numein, you wanted to prove yourself in the rite of passage. According to tradition, a young dwarf must enter the dark goblin infested caverns of Dor Gûl kill some goblins, and bring back at least 100 decashards (an in game currency) worth of treasure. The current record is 500 decashards, but you wanted fame and renown. You decided to go above and beyond this. You wanted to bring back ten times this amount of treasure and make your name a legend for generations. But this is a difficult task. The only possible way to retrieve this much money is to go deep into the caverns known as the Perilous Paths. None who have entered have come back alive, and against the warnings of your parents and the council you entered the terrible realm. Now you are lost in a disorienting place with foul creatures everywhere. There is barely any hope that you will get out alive.

During the game, one player will play the dwarf and run around the maze trying to find the way out and find treasure. Once the player gets 5,000 decashards of treasure and exits the maze, he or she wins. The other player is the monster player and will spawn goblins, orcs , trolls, gremlins, gargoyles, etc, and try to disorient and kill the dwarf player. If the monster player kills the dwarf, the monster player wins.

Could somebody come up with an interesting alternate theme for this?

DifferentName's picture
Joined: 09/08/2013
Shadowrun or Metroid

Cyberpunk could make an awesome theme. A group infiltrating a large corporation to steal their top secret plans and gadgets, with security personnel and robots trying to stop you. Like Shadowrun, which is a hybrid of fantasy and cyberpunk.

Or something like Metroid, investigating ruins of highly advanced civilizations on alien planets, fighting strange alien creatures and automated defenses.

Toa Lewa
Toa Lewa's picture
Joined: 10/31/2013

Metroid. Oooohhh....! I like the sound of that!

One thing to keep in mind is that this game is designed to be confusing for the good guy. In this game, the good guy starts out lost and can become lost again through actions of the bad player. When I say lost, I literally mean lost. I won't explain how this mechanic works, but I have tested it on some friends while playing an RPG and they were really frustrated with me because they couldn't find their way out of a cave. Back to my point, whatever the genre is, the game should probably take place in a dark cakelike area. Basically, a corporation heist won't work very well for my game. Good suggestions though DifferentName! I'll keep thinking about Metroid.

Any other suggestions?

Joined: 03/27/2014
I nearly posted this exact

I nearly posted this exact question last week!

I'm currently working on a dungeon crawl as well (aren't we all?!) and it's still somewhat fantasy-based, but all the creatures are animals. Some of the heroes include Goatius Verata (goat) Wrenlo Bedwick (wren) and Zhiyahk Mutus (yak). The common enemies have more generic names like Lydian Shark or Blind Panda.

The locations are also not always dungeons. Some of the maps (created by card layouts) are plains, islands, forests, etc.

Some other theme possibilities:

-Island Exploration, more realistic, crawl to find a way off the island, find a villain, hunt a Yeti-like beast.
-Haunted Mansion, a la Ghostbusters style.
-Inside a Living Creature, think of the oft-used sci-fi setting where the team shrinks themselves down to microscopic size to kill a virus inside their friend.
-Metroid, genius! Someone license this asap.
-Abandoned City or Ghost Town, although this has the potential to create yet another zombie game...
-Pyramids! Fight off ancient Egyptian myths while searching for the Pharaoh's treasure.
-Ever played the video game Psychonauts?

I'm sure there are non-fantasy dungeon crawls out there, but perhaps they didn't gain much ground because the style was too far from the norm?

senorbaub's picture
Joined: 08/20/2011
Two plumbers roaming through

Two plumbers roaming through the sewer :)

MicroStack Games
Joined: 06/21/2014
Redwall Series

Anyone remember the Redwall series from years ago? I'd like to see someone use a similar theme/characters.

From Wikipedia: "In the Redwall universe, species almost invariably (with very few exceptions, including change of character mid-story) determines a creature's nature, whether good or evil. Some common noble species in Redwall include mice, otters, moles, hares, squirrels, hedgehogs, shrews, birds, voles, and badgers, while common vermin include rats, foxes, weasels, ferrets, ravens, snakes, stoats, ermine, sables, wildcats, magpies, rooks, and crows."

MicroStack Games
Joined: 06/21/2014

@RyanRay - a Psychonauts theme would be awesome as well! What a great game.

MicroStack Games
Joined: 06/21/2014
senorbaub wrote:Two plumbers

senorbaub wrote:
Two plumbers roaming through the sewer :)

Haha - well played sir.

schattentanz's picture
Joined: 02/18/2014
Incubation Of An Insect Nation

Anyone remembering "Incubation: Time Is Running Out?"

You had a squad of marines, each marine came with a basic pistol but could be upgraded between the missions of the campaign.

In the claustrophpbic Environment of the city Scay'Hallwa you had to battle the native lifeforms (the Scay'Ger). See here for some stats:
Also: -> Profils [sic] -> Scay'Ger

The game was very interesting, since each kind of hostile creature behaved differently and often required you to outsmart the A.I. instead of using brute force.

Even though 17 yeas old, I'm still looking for a boardgame dungeon crawl matching this one.

Kind regards,

Damurack's picture
Joined: 03/01/2014
Possibly an open?

Have you thought of a possible escape or espionage idea? You can use those concepts in different themes (ex. Fantasy,Sci-fi).

Joined: 07/12/2012
James Bond

...or some spy infiltrating a base of some sorts. You get to go after the various henchmen, enemy agents, and traps.

Joined: 01/17/2011
Random ideas

First day of high school. Try to get to all your classes and make new friends while avoiding the local bully, the drama queen, the grammar police, and the frogs that escaped from the lab.

Coma patient trapped in an alternate reality inside their own brain. Try to collect enough memory fragments so that you can wake up, while avoiding/battling the dark creatures of hate, despair and apathy.

Space explorer discovers a pyramid on an alien world. Only after the door slams shut does he/she realise that the pyramid is not deserted.

After crash-landing on a barren planet circled by constant sandstorms and random lightning strikes, an astronaut must battle not just the weather but also hostile silicon-based creatures while gathering enough supplies to repair the ship. Be careful not to get disoriented in a sandstorm though, because if you lose the way back to the ship you will be trapped here forever.

Joined: 12/27/2013
Couple of ones I had/have in

Couple of ones I had/have in mind for this type of game.

Historical naval/pirate theme - you'll be traveling to the ends of the uncharted seas for fame and fortune and landing/boarding for more tactical action.

Wild West - Ride from town to town robbing banks and claiming a name for yourself.

Pretty much any game that has a broad theme can be given a breath of fresh air (or dank in this case) by tightening it up thematically and artistically. is a game that's making me go "wow" every time I see it. Albeit there's not much to see yet, i guess.

What if the game you have now only included Dwarfs and Goblins in it's world, and the deeper you'd go there would not be Minotaurs, but more agonizingly mutated Goblins. Like all the way to Shoggoth levels of mutations (

Joined: 03/27/2014
Well, let's look at some of

Well, let's look at some of the big appeals of the Fantasy setting to see why it's so popular for this genre:

-Imaginative Characters – This is fun for both the player and designer since there are a million different ways to stray from the typical mythos and Tolkien-esque creatures. Helps transport the character to a new world.

-Strength vs. Magic – Gives a good variety of play styles that will provide a fun match for most people. Some people really enjoy being a Paladin, or a Mage, or a Warrior, etc. which is tougher to recreate in any real-world setting.

-Unique Items – The fantasy setting gives the ability to create and use items with odd abilities, or strange curses/hexes. These aren't possible in most real-world settings unless you're going the techno route.

-Familiarity – As I mentioned before, I'm sure there are non-fantasy crawls out there, but they just never got much attention because of the jump from the familiar. Nearly any gamer can tell you what a Necromancer does, or a Thief, or a Priest.

-Each Game Plays Differently – This is something that would be a plus to other genres. I know that D&D, Pathfinder, Thunderstone, Mice & Mystics, Super Fantasy, and Descent all have very different play styles while still being rooted in a similar universe. You don't have to completely relearn the world of the game to play it. It's like a driving a car - yes, there may be different features, button placements, etc. but it's still a car. Now try driving a speedboat...

-Rebellion vs. World Theme - Most good fantasies carry this theme often represented in The Hero's Journey (look it up). Heck, even most fantasy-based video games do this! Just thinking of the Final Fantasy series alone, numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, and 13 all do this. It's a classic theme that lends itself very easily to the fantasy genre. A small ragtag group rises up to take on a powerful foe... kinda tough to pull off in a setting with cell phones and the internet. You want to feel like you're the underdog, one reason why the co-op design is great for many dungeon crawlers.

-Nameless Enemies – It feels good to destroy a Frenzied Buck or a Blue Orc because:
1) They not only are a necessary obstacle towards your goal, but they also can provide you with assistance afterwards (loot)!
2) Their destruction is justified since you can imagine that they attacked you first. Think of how rare it is to see an enemy that doesn't actually attack you.
3) They're not humans with names, so there's no guilt or attachment to the character.

Now, how do we apply all these appeals to a different setting?

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
It reminds me of a "The

It reminds me of a "The reader is the hero" made by steve jackson, where you played a mercenary boarding a mad scientist ship and had to make your way to the scientist.

It was a sci-fi twist to the "Warlock of the Firetop Mountain"

Joined: 06/15/2014
It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it

A game set in sewers, where the flow of, er, "water" is a factor could be quite interesting. Especially how the board would change as doors are opened and closed, opening essential areas, presenting the threat of drowning, etc.

Didn't one of the old Tomb Raider games have an old Roman cistern or something similar?

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