Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Fresh Water and the Lake as Dungeon

Yesterday I dredged the pond for blanket weed. In amongst each netful of juicy brown squelchy organic mess from the bottom - rotting vegetation, gooey mud, fibrous plantlife - I discovered a little treasure: dragonfly nymphs, dozens of them, each a few inches long, with angry murderous expressions on their faces at having been disturbed. It was amazing to thing that they had probably been down there for two years or so already, living out their lives with us on the surface completely ignorant of their very existence.

It got me thinking about fresh water - lakes, ponds, rivers - and how under-utilized it is as an environment for adventure in D&D. Undersea adventures, we know about, at least in theory if not in practice: we've all got our monstrous manuals brimming with sahuagin, locathah, aquatic elves and ixitxachitl. But under-lake ones?

Structurally, the under-lake adventure is similar to that of a dungeoncrawl. There is a deep, dark, Loch Ness-style body of water: murky and muddy and green. Beside it is a village. The villagers know that there are strange beings down there on the lake bottom. In fact, maybe they believe that down there on the lake bottom there is a gateway to hell. They fish on its surface, and sometimes they see things moving through the gloom. They say that there was once a city there, or a temple, or a castle, or all three, until the inhabitants wronged the gods and the valley was flooded. And so on and so on. And rather than simply strolling into the dungeon, the PCs can borrow a boat and dive into it - or just swim. All they need are a way to breathe underwater and something to weigh them down.

And what do they find down there? In a body of water the size of Loch Ness there could be entire ruined settlements, entire living settlements of whatever creatures are down there, cave systems burrowed into the lake bottom or sides, forests of weeds, chasms and ravines, miniature deserts of rock (not to mention a hundred different Nessies). Plenty of stuff to bring back to the surface for the enterprising D&D PC.

The logistical niceties are in a way what I like the most. How do you get heavy stuff up from the bottom of a lake? How do you make sure that when you leave the lake and come back, you going to end up at exactly the same location given how hard it is to judge where things are from the surface? How do you find your way around in the murky depths were visibility is only a couple of yards? How do you locate the body of a fallen comrade?


  1. I have an explorable lake in the backyard of my dungeon/castle complex.

  2. My first though would be to try and connect all bodies of water Veins of the Earth style.

    1. Using the Bog Elves + Potemkimen from Fire on the Velvet Horizon, maybe?

  3. Even a small lake, say 100 acres, could be a difficult place to explore. And with the accumulation of muck, there could also be a lot (treasure, skeletons, fish things) hidden down there as well.

    But I usually don't think of small lakes, probably because I live not to far from Ontario. It does look like a sea when I am on the shore. All that space for adventuring and only a handful of supplements that give a pittance of pages to freshwater.

    And then there are unique lakes like Baikal in Russia. Very deep and has marine fauna that have evolved to live in freshwater. (Which reminds me- the largest fish in AD&D is a terror in lakes and rivers. Verme or something similar.) It is deep enough there could be many connections to an underearth within its banks. Ones with magic that prevent it from draining.

  4. I've used lakes quite a lot actually, though an important feature of the campaign I'm starting right now is an estuary inhabited by lizard men, giant crabs and giant crocodiles. Beneath the mud and eelgrass lies a buried city - towers and walls can be seen above the sediments, and these ruins are the lizard men's home.

    One of the cool aspects of this environment is the channels cutting through the estuary - they act something like corridors for small skiffs, since the mud itself is too thick to traverse without becoming dangerously mired.

  5. The megadungeon I'm currently working on is set on the coast of a rather large lake, with the nearest (living) settlement at the other end. I've been planning in using the lake as a dangerous means to get to the dungeon quickly and the coast as locales for side adventures (caves, a swamp, etc.).

    I hadn't thought to give the players reason to take a dunk, but it would be fitting. The lake is home to Things Man Was Not Meant To Know (some of which is in an Evil Sea World level), but going into the lake itself would make for a terrifyingly appropriate excursion.