Across the breadth of the intertubes, there is a piece of advice that seems to creep into each and every dungeon design discussion: Always include a bathroom. It’s a nod to the philosophy that dungeons need to make sense, and that intelligent humanoids need some place to do their business (even if those “intelligent” humanoids are orcs, and even if their bathroom is just a hole in the ground). This is the naturalistic approach to dungeon building, as opposed to the dungeon as mythic underworld approach that we’ve discussed a time or two before. No points for guessing which type of dungeon The Anti-Party are trekking through in today’s comic.

You can read about the “absurdly large sewer” trope in all its glory over on TV Tropes, but chances are you don’t need to. Adventures in sewers are a staple of this hobby, from the otyugh plugs of Korvosa to the sprawling complex of random encounters running under Waterdeep. Chances are you’ve spent some time in one. Hell, my first published dungeon featured a chase through a sewer system, and I’ll be honest with you: it felt more like a necessity than an option in an urban setting. Never mind the fact that sewers with 50′ ceilings are decidedly atypical in real world contexts. There’s just something about the passageways that lie beneath our feet, lurking under the surface of everyday life, that draws the imagination. 

I think that for me, it’s the bits and pieces of the sewer system poking up into daylight like ant hills. They’re just the tip of the odoriferous iceberg; the visible portion of vast hidden networks. Manhole covers and storm drains are like the little mound of dirt capping all those endless ant tunnels, and so I find myself projecting subterranean grandeur onto modest municipal systems.

It’s an odd point of comparison, but I was lucky enough to make it down into the Paris catacombs a few years back. If you’ve never been, trust me when I say that the place is nothing like a sewer. Limestone mine and overflow ossuary, the catacombs are exactly the sort of urban adventure we all imagine when we think of metropolitan dungeon-delving. It’s a weird matter of metonymy when we begin to merge exceptional real world labyrinths with commonplace septic systems, but the Paris catacombs seem to lie under the surface of every one of our fantasy settlements. A small settlement shouldn’t need a sewer big enough to accommodate an army of ninja turtles, but they always seem to show up regardless. From the horror of Pennywise’s lair to the goofy fun of surfing The Great Wave, sewer systems are the dungeons closest to our mundane lives. I suppose it’s no wonder when they begin to grow and morph into something enormous when we explore them in-game.

I’m sure the rest of your guys have spent your fair share of unpleasant hours tromping through sewer-themed adventures. What was it like? What interesting monsters, secret cults, and unpleasant smells did you encounter? Let’s hear all about your favorite sewer adventures down in the comments!


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