D20 Modern/D&D: Dungeon in the Forest
The best kept secret of the modern world is that many of the old legends and fairy tales are true. Terrible creatures lurk in warrens below, their numbers unknown but overwhelming. Were they to attack the people of the surface, it would at the very least ruin the delicate balance of our civilizations and economies, and could result in a final world war that humanity cannot win.
So why don’t they attack us? Somehow these chthonic entities have an implicit code: they would much rather engage in symbolic than actual war with the surface. They want a small band of humans to descend into their tunnels and match might and wits against the warriors and traps of the deep.
Easy enough, right? The nations of the world have no lack of highly-trained soldiers happy to risk their lives for the safety of all. But the implicit code doesn’t allow that. For some reason, the monsters beneath the earth only want to fight those that are truly interested in the adventure, not in the fate of the world. They can somehow detect ringers right away and swarm them in overwhelming numbers. But if a small group finds its way beneath the earth and chooses to keep exploring out of the thrill of the fight and lust for treasure, it all works out. The creatures array themselves into challenging but not overwhelming clusters of foes, and the world is safe as long as this delve lasts.
We’ve even identified several archetypes that work the best: the Fighter, the Cleric, the Mage, and the Thief. Whenever we find a group of four friends who fit those roles, the dungeons are exceptionally peaceful for months after their delves, whether or not they eventually meet a grisly end. It’s especially useful if they start out with hardly any skill at combat whatsoever: the monsters seem to enjoy it when their opponents are clearly learning on the job.
So we started a project to find young men and women that fit these roles, subtly encourage them to vacation near entryways into the netherworld, and build up their confidence enough that they throw caution to the wind and, of their own free will, choose to become treasure seekers and monster slayers. Most of them die, and die quickly. Some of them eventually cut their losses and sell the ancient treasures they’ve unearthed for a leg up on modern life. The greatest find their way into becoming secret weapons of their nation’s elite armed forces. Once you’ve faced down a dragon and won, nothing about the surface world is likely to ever scare you again.