Science-fantasy demands a certain strangeness. Perhaps my inspiration comes from all of the memento mori I’ve been exposed to recently, but the best dungeons I’ve created over the past few months have all been bodies. In an earlier post I talked about one of these dungeons, enmeshed with both machine and soil. But the last “dungeon” I ran, was actually a living spaceship. Now this is hardly something new, there’s plenty of Sci-fi out there with living bio-tech machines. But the tone I hope to project is particularly Lovecraftian. Over at Sword and Sanity I read an article – or rather, I read H.P. Lovecraft’s “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” in which he states “Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.” [The sculpture below is “Le Transi de Rene de Chalon” by Ligier Richier.]

Time is a constant reminder to man of his mortality, his relative insignificance. So it is time which winds the very cogs of weird fiction, because it so adequately defines the human experience (and frailty). The goal of my living dungeons, and particularly those composed of pulsing flesh has been to hint towards a very specific tone of unease. This is an unease derived from a sense of corporeal impermanence.

As dungeon crawling adventurers, player characters entering a living dungeon must not be led to think they are entering a neutered or sterile treasure trove. But rather, a living dungeon is a foreign entity, to which the presence of plundering adventurers is like a disease besetting the body. The hope is that these dungeon environments will seem like an ever present malevolence which reacts to the players with white-blood-cell defense. The monsters in these dungeons should behave like extensions of the environment, rather than individuals capable of agency.

The deeper the players go, so to speak, the more aware they should become of their affect on the environment. There should be a direct correlation between the success of the players, and the death of the dungeon. Eventually players should be concerned about doing too much damage to the dungeon, lest it die and come crashing down upon them.

However I’m doing something a little different than what I usually do. Because the players managed to capture the living ship during our last session, I’ve decided that the ship will gradually change (mutate, evolve, acclimate, transform) to reflect whoever is the crew. Before, the ship was a tentacled dreadnought (inspired by equal parts bird and coral reef… no seriously). I’m not sure exactly how these transformations will play out yet – but thats the beauty of sandbox games.

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