Monday, February 25, 2013

Dungeoncrawl Reality Check

A nearby town from where I live is reestablishing it's historic underground for tourism. I thought it's worth checking out and we were not disappointed. Taking pictures was not allowed inside the dungeon, but I'll share what I can.

A little history

The guide told us they can say that parts of the dungeon existed already 600 years ago. At that time it was a small trading town with a port and circa 4.000 inhabitants. It was used for storage, as a last defense or escape, as a meeting place and even as a place to live. The town is build an a slope and the soil is very suitable for tunneling. And tunneling they did. A lot. As of this writing they've rediscovered 600 rooms and they believe there are up to 600 rooms still to be rediscovered. They started doing so because this had happened:
It went 4 meters down from there on... [Photographer: Martin Kaemper]

More beer in dungeons and other interesting facts

All in all we saw about 600 meters and maybe 10 rooms of the underground, ranging from the 14th century up to as early as 1940. Here are a few of my observations and knowledge I could gather:

  • They had pieces of slate incorporated into the ceiling, because they leave splinters on the floor as soon as they break. It's what you'd want to know when the earth moved and passage isn't save anymore. I thought that was clever...
  • The temperature down there was somewhere between 15° and 17° Celsius and it's really damp, so it feels actually colder. Forget storing books or fabrics down there for a longer time.
  • We were told there is something like underground weather. For instance you can tell it had rained on the surface, because the walls start to glisten as soon as the water gets down there.
  • They stored all kinds of stuff in the dungeon, but mainly beer. That's because alcohol kills germs and it was healthier than drinking water.
  • It was very easy to distinguish different tunneling phases alone by the materials used. Parts of the dungeon even got sealed between centuries just to get rid of waste. A dungeon is always changing if somebody is living in it.
  • No even or straight passages. The ceilings in the tunnels never had the same height, with very low ceilings being the standard. Rooms, though, had always higher ceilings and came in a lot of different shapes.
  • We were between 6 and 10 meters below the surface, at times with up to 4 tunnels over our heads.
  • They had discovered very low tunnels (about 1 meter high) and one of the theories about that is, that they used those to send message dogs through.
  • We had to wear building-site helmets and it was an interesting experience to see how that alone narrows the perception.
  • Orientation and navigation were really difficult. There never was a clear line of sight, too. Mapping would take forever.

That's about it. We'll go there again, into a private part of the dungeon. 1.5 kilometers and for 2 hours. Maybe I'll be able to take pictures then. Two pictures I was allowed to take to give you but a small impression of it. They are from the tourist information and public:

It's a very small portion of the dungeon!
Sorry about the flashlight...
I'm really looking forward to see more of this enormous underground labyrinth. I'll keep you posted.


  1. That is great stuff - really fun insights. I like the idea of small tunnels and messenger dogs (or other critters teaming up with inhabitants).

  2. I love those pictures, particularly the diagrams. It really helps me think about moving beyond the standard grid layout when mapping my own creations. Some of my players are working their way through the God that Crawls module, and the maps they've been drawing for that have been difficult enough. I can only imagine how tough it would be without clearly delineated levels!

  3. Thanks for the feedback, guys! I'm glad all you liked it.

    @Beedo - Yeah, the most interesting thing was the fact, that it's not fiction, people really lived down there and were creative about it. Those smaller tunnels are a perfect example of that.

    @Charlie - Same goes for me. It's a shame that it wasn't allowed to take pictures inside the dungeon (they reserved that right for themselves). The maps give a good first impression, but being inside it, imagining it without the lighting, it's easy to feel disoriented and lost. And it makes one think about finding better ways to create/describe dungeons.

  4. Awesome. Have you gone back?

    Would they at least allow you to map dungeon on graph paper? ;)

  5. That last picture reminds me of maps of underground tunnels in Hârn products. This is really neat! Thanks for this (I came here from The Sandbox of Doom).

  6. So, this is what real dungeons would be like?
    I actually like that better. If my players ever ask for a dungeon crawl, I've got some inspirations they wouldn't quite expect!

  7. You can see some of the classic S-bend approaches to tunnelling in the map. Because it is so hard to work out where you are underground, you dig a tunnel between locations from both sides and home in on the noise of the other sappers.

    Probably a best approach in gaming is not to use graph paper at all when drawing your dungeon, and then overlaying a transparent grid for measurement when it is used.

  8. Really cool! Where is this? It sounds like a perfect place for a vacation!

  9. @ all - Yeah, we were stoked, too (the gamers a bit more than the rest...). We plan to go there again next month. This time it's a private owner and a 2 hour tour, different part of the dungeon. I see what I can do regarding pictures :)

    @ Stelios - I didn't think to bring any :) But mapping really would take time and that we didn't have.

    @ Asen - I like this better, too. But it's hard to translate into a gaming context, I guess. Going awa from the 2d approach we usually have could lead to disorientation (I tried it once, well need to work on that, I guess...).

    @ Reverance - You're mostly right (tunnel wars between sappers where a guessing game like that). But they randomly dug in for hundreds of years, sometimes with only a meter or so between tunnels. One thing I thought interesting, was, that the whole dungeon came to existance, because people wanted more space. They didn't have a direction to go (and didn't care which direction they went!) and improvised as soon as they met another room or tunnel by accident. I don't think anyone had a map to begin with, mostly they just guessed directions.

    @ Terje - It's Oppenheim, Germany. They have 4 tours down there that I'm aware of. Sure worth a holiday, more so if you dig vine :)

  10. Looks like a perfect argument for throwing out the graph paper...

  11. @jd It's a shame that you take my picture on your website and you didn´t ask me.
    Write under the picture : Photographer: Martin Kaemper and give me a follow backlink . and it´s o.k. .

    1. Sorry about that and thanks for pointing it out. I usually do the research and show the source if I can figure out who did it. I'll rectify this immediately. Again, my sincerest apologies. It's your work and your name needs to be under that picture ...


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