aka reactive dungeons, aka Dungeon No Likey
This is a type of adventure game location I’ve done a few of, and there are many more out there. The basic idea is that the more the players delve, the more the space itself reacts to their intrusion.
Most dungeon crawling games loosely mechanise this to some degree. Spend too long exploring in classic D&D and you’ll trigger a wandering monster encounter. My own Graverobbers makes characters lose the game’s HP equivalent when they make too much light or noise.
Right now though I’m thinking about more specific ways in which individual adventures can model reactions and some of the possibilities for fun and interesting play you can get out of them
For instance, we can consider what triggers might cause the response in the first place. Graverobbers is a stealth game so one of them is being un-stealthy. And I feel like the general default trigger is “being here”, which is a good one when you’re delving in places where people Were Not Meant To Tread.
Stuff that adventure games tend to disincentivise, like combat, make good triggers. In my Mothership adventure The Horror on Tau Sigma 7, the dungeon reacts when damage is done to the structure itself (like breaking through a door instead of unlocking it) or its inhabitants. The forest from The Postbox in the Woods likewise reacts to violence and destruction.
Thinking up more specific triggers can help flavour a dungeon and force creative solutions. Maybe the wizard who built this tower despises the colour yellow, or the titan whose navel you’re exploring is allergic to gold.
The dungeon’s response should be clear, even if it starts subtly and builds over time like in TS7. Players have to be clued into this being a cause-and-effect or they won’t be able to use the information practically. A low rumbling sound or cold wind every time a player starts to unsheathe their sword that abruptly cuts off when they put it away again would be easy to understand, even if the specifics haven’t been discovered yet. The response, like the best traps, shouldn’t shut off options but force new ones
Like all the best curses and mutations though, the response doesn’t have to be all bad. If there’s an upside the players are encouraged to use the information creatively and game the system. In the most recent episode of Into the Megadungeon, Miranda Elkins talks about how there are places in Nightwick Abbey that are inaccessible without triggering the dungeon’s geomorph rearranging mechanic.
You could even reverse the concept, have specific actions or events the dungeon wants and rewards. If players figure out the right offering to bring they can open secret doors in the cultists’ lair, for instance. These kinds of interactions are more like typical lock and key, call and response mechanics, but having a sliding scale of just how appeased the dungeon is could be interesting.
These kinds of dungeons benefit from being large, thereby encouraging exploration and letting the response build or even ebb and flow over time. For smaller dungeons a pitcher-plant structure can be useful, or a simple depthcrawl, where players want to go deeper for cooler stuff but going further makes coming back that much harder.
Anyway, just a concept I’m thinking over at the minute, trying to see if there are new fun places I can take it. If you haven’t used something similar in an adventure before I’d recommend it, and if you know any great adventures that do this well then let me know!