I’ve recently been playing a lot of Oblivion, continuing the adventures of Mr. Pants. I just finished re-running the Shivering Isles expansion, and Mr. Pants has has returned to Cyrodiil to continue his misadventures in the great green fishbowl. Since his return, not a lot exciting has happened. At level 5, he was impressively able to kill Umbra and take her stuff with the help of a handful of clanfears (nothing like being able to send a demonic raptor dinosaur thing after low-level enemies) and finding a nice ledge to shoot down at her from. But that’s really been about it. I’ve run through a couple of the generic dungeons, and the dungeons of Shivering Isles only serve to reinforce how generic they are.
The average non-quest related dungeon in Oblivion is 1-4 levels of cave, mine, castle or elf-crypt. There is a specific “type” that is randomly drawn from based on your level, and generic randomly spawning chests. Nothing to write home about. There are a few non-quest places that have a little bit of flavor, like Goblin Jim’s cave (a generic goblin cave that has a crazy naked dude who lives with goblins) and the elven ruin that was destroyed by some sort of flood, but for the most part, there’s not a lot going on and you’re not going to find anything of interest.
Shivering Isle, on the other hand, with a few exceptions, has some interesting and rewarding stuff even in dungeons that aren’t quest-related, some of which would be a great inspiration for some table-top games. Now, I can’t remember their names, but a few descriptions should suffice:
-A family tomb that has become an obsession. I’ve always said that I’m fascinated with cursed and haunted tombs in RPGs, how they began as normal tombs and what the transition ot a cursed/haunted tomb must have been like. One of the most interesting Shivering Isles dungeons, Ebrocca I think it is called, is a look at a tomb that is nearing the end of its transition from normal family tomb to crazy cursed haunted tomb. The patriarch of a family has become obsessed with building his family tomb so that it will stand for all time and be a sanctuary for the family dead forever, so he fills it with all kinds of traps and apparently curses as well. His relatives have expressed concern, the tomb is far too dangerous for the family to actually visit, and the traps and curses actually lead to the death of a number of said family members. To top it off, the crazy patriarch has made himself immortal so he can guard the inner sanctum of the tomb for all time.
-A cult of poets have found an awesome ruined subterranean amphitheatre and had a great idea: kidnap people, give them anything they desired, and then have them compete in poetry and playwriting. Of course, the people who are kidnapped are all in a panic and think that they’re going to be forced to fight each other to the death. Instead of asking for the luxuries the cult are willing to provide, the prisoners ask for weapons and end up trying to kill each other. The cult of poets panic and hole themselves up, hiding because “oh, god, these people are crazy and are going to kill us!”.
-A young man convinces his wife to leave the big city behind and go live in a cave. Not just any cave, but a wonderful, beautiful cave that has everything they’d ever need! Unfortunately, the cave is lonely and the wife wants to leave. Eventually, the young man relents and lets his wife go off to return to the city, but she gets hurt and killed trying to flee a dangerous animal in the cave. Now, in the game, you only find the woman’s corpse, and the husband is programmed to immediately attack, so as far as that goes, it’s a set-piece and is a little disappointing in how it plays out, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile for some inspiration.
These would make for GREAT adventures, or at least offer a lot to pull from. The vanilla Oblivion dungeons, though, can’t help but make me think of the Labyrinth Lord Gibbering Tower, which is a non-descript ruin with some rather vile monsters and no worthwhile reward. The best way to win is to avoid the place completely.*
Now, it is time for the irony of this ‘generic’ dungeon complaint to show itself. I’m setting aside Mr. Pants for a bit to start playing Elona again.
*:Gibbering Tower, it should be noted is one-page dungeon and a con-module.