Dungeons in Greek Mythology
A Twist on a Classic
What I love about this campaign setting is that it is an adaptation of some excellent source material. However, not everything in DnD is going to be a perfect 1:1 translation. Last night, while laying in bed, I began to think about the dungeon. What are the dungeons of The Heroic Age?
|Theseus Killing the Minotaur by Anon. c. 1600s AD|
This maze was constructed by the skillful craftsman Daedalus. According to the Athenian mythographer Peisistratus, Daedalus of Crete was born in Athens, the grandson of King Erechtheus. He fled to Crete after he killed his nephew Talos. Talos, his sister's son, was more talented than his uncle. Blinded by jealousy Daedalus threw Talos off the Acropolis. His crime soon came to light, and he was banished from Athens. He eventually settled in Crete where he came to the employ of King Minos, the King of Knossos.
The Labyrinth was called upon to construct a prison for the Minotaur, a punishment sent by the gods for Minos's sins. He incorporated part of its design into the Palace of Knossos. After Theseus entered the labyrinth and killed the Minotaur, King Minos had the entrance sealed shut. As far as King Idomeneus (the current King of Crete) knows, no one has been into the Labyrinth. What Idomeneus does not know, is that the Labyrinth beneath his palace has been growing.
The Labyrinth is more than a simple maze, it is a pocket dimension, and it is growing. Daedalus only used a small portion of it to guard the Minotaur. The rest he used to hide his greatest inventions and weapons. He filled it with cunning traps and guardians to keep thieves out. There are many hidden entrances between the Labyrinth and the mortal realm. Daedalus would often make use of these connections to travel across Greece quickly. He could travel across hundreds of leagues with a short walk through his Labyrinth. This allowed him to sell some of his inventions or services to countless kings. However, as far as anyone knows, Daedalus is dead. He died somewhere in Egypt along the Nile river.
Of course, Daedalus is not dead. He now resides almost exclusively in the Labyrinth which has grown massive beyond even his wildest imaginings. Physically, the Labyrinth is almost the size of all of Greece and the Aegean sea. Daedalus feeds off the energy of the plane, which has granted him near immortality. The pocket dimension often lures adventurers and monsters into its maze, then it slowly consumes them, converting them into minions. The Labyrinth has a mind of its own, and its walls are ever shifting.
This could be your endless megadungeon. In the future I plan to put together some more notes about the Labyrinth like a wandering monster table, or a list of Daedalus's ingenious traps. I try to connect magic items and monsters to the source material. Anything that is not connected to the source material can just be the work of Daedalus. Daedalus is a good source of items that may not fit thematically with Ancient Greece, but remember that they are all prototypes. Daedalus is too fascinated with his next greatest invention to ever focus on mass production.
The research notes of Daedalus can also be a highly sought after artifact. These are safely guarded in various hidden libraries throughout the Labyrinth.
The original source material for Atlantis comes from the dialogues Timaeus and Critias. This was a conversation between the politicians Timaeus, Critias, Hermocrates, and the philosopher Socrates.
According to Critias: "Now in this island of Atlantis there existed a confederation of kings, of great and marvelous power, which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent." The island was bequeathed to Poseidon when he drew lots with his brothers Zeus and Hades. It was a great kingdom ruled by the sons of Poseidon. Critias describes Atlantis as a beautiful utopia ruled by the sons of Poseidon that was brought low by war 9,000 years ago. The Empire of Atlantis came to conquer the mainland and was mostly successful, until they were defeated by an alliance of Athenians who liberated conquered land.
"But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way, and this was caused by the subsidence of the island."
The sunken ruins of Atlantis are located beyond the Pillars of Hercules (The Straits of Gibraltar) where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet. There are several ways to reach Atlantis. Daedalus built an ingenious submersible out of brass which would allow heroes to reach the underwater ruins. The heroes could also turn to the aid of sea nymphs or great Poseidon himself for magical aid.
This can also serve as a fun megadungeon. Literally nothing is known about Atlantis (it probably was not real) but this can be a great opportunity to inject some weirdness into your game. The Atlanteans probably had access to all manner of strange weaponry and magic lost to time. The ruins of Atlantis are filled with the descendants of survivors from that doomed day. This is where DMs could fit in the Sahaugin or Kuo-Toa into their Ancient Greek game. These Atlantean Mutants have found a way to survive. The heroes might find a magical stasis pod (similar to Pandora's box) that holds Prince Azaes and Prince Diaprepes. They were a pair of the five twins boys born to Poseidon and his love Cleito. They managed to survive in stasis for 9,000 years and plan on raising Atlantis from the bottom of the sea! (an act which would bring devastating tidal waves to wipe out the Achaeans).
The Underworld is where Hades rules. It is a bleak place that holds the dead. It should not be confused with the torturous visions of Hell depicted by Dante. It is just a gloomy place. There are five rivers that flow through the Underworld:
- Acheron: The river of sorrow or woe.
- Cocytus: The river of lamentation.
- Phlegethon: The river of fire.
- Lethe: The river of oblivion.
- Styx: The river of hate.
Erebus is the domain of the dead and it is divided into several sections which are managed by the three Judges of the Dead: King Rhadamanthus, King Aeacus, and King Minos. According to Homer Elysium is managed by Rhadamanthus, the wise (and dead) king of Crete. The Elysian Fields can be found on the Islands of the Blessed, a nice place where heroes go in the afterlife. The Asphodel Meadows are described in The Odyssey as the place where ordinary souls are sent after death. They are covered in strange, pallid ghostly flowers. It is a land of utter neutrality and the dominion of King Aeacus of Aegina, the grandfather of Achilles. Finally the pit of Tartarus is where the worst souls are punished and is a prison for horrific monsters. The current warden is King Minos of Crete.
The three judges of the dead are described by Plato, Homer, and Virgil. However, only Rhadamanthus is connected to a single portion of the Underworld. I felt that was kind of unfair to the other two judges, and assigned them their own domains in the Underworld. They are the middle managers of the Underworld, making sure things go smoothly for Hades.
In the Heroic Age resurrection magic is not common. If a character dies his comrades cannot just drag the corpse to the local cleric and buy a resurrection. Instead, it requires a trip into the Underworld. In the future, I will use a more traditional take on the Underworld, but with my students I used a more... experimental one, which I am excited to share with you all when it comes up.
To bring a soul back to life requires either a golden apple or the blessing of Hades or Persephone. Heroes can petition the lord or lady of the Underworld. They may be willing to grant the request, but it usually comes with strings attached. ("Of course will allow the brave warrior Aitholos to leave the Underworld, but in return you must find the largest ram in the White Mountains of Crete and sacrifice it to Hades, lord of the Underworld").