DUNGEONS AND DISPLAY CASES
I have flown through the nasal passages of a hammerhead shark and coveted amethysts stained with blood and dishonour; a jar full of dead monkeys, an owl with a pencil in its ear, and the oldest dust in the known universe. Yes, I have spent three days in that cathedral of science, the veritable Vatican of evolution and platonic ideal of curatorship that is London’s Natural History Museum.
Stop reading and go there now. Seriously.
I've also been to the Victoria and Albert museum, which bills itself as the world’s leading museum of art and design but actually feels far more viscerally like a temple to Beautiful Things Britannia’s Glorious Empire Plundered, back when it ruled the earth. This gives me uneasy feelings of guilt, swiftly drowned by a kind of secular numinous awe. There’s no finer way to understand at a glance why empires work. But I digress.
There are many gameable things there, so the national history museum is now a dungeon:
The Reptile Lichdoms
The Reptile Lichdoms are a subworld crushed beneath the infinitesimally slow, unending pressure of sedimentary layers. Their ancient civilisation is a world of pillars and Atlas-like upheaving, an exercise in defiance of crushing stone. They are patient and careful and never far from crushing obliteration or permineralization. Their gods are the Stone and the Black: It’s unclear whether these are philosophical metaphors or genuine divinities. Perhaps both. Stone represents death, timelessness, the order of things. The Black is darkness, the unknown and potential, transformation and memory; a liquid deity, a hive mind of psychic petroleum. Balancing these forces, and the analysis of choice and consequence, is the basis of their society. They debate and weigh decisions in a way that even ents would find longwinded and overcautious. They are waiting for the death and weathering of the world, when there is no more sky to press upon them.
The halls are labyrinthine cathedrals of interlocked dry bones - HR Geiger in mottled yellow-grey and white. Everything is ab-dead, fleshless but animate, although many skeletons sleep, lost in reverie and dreams encoded into their bones. The reptile dead measure slumber in geological time, and so ever practical, many have been repurposed into the lichdoms’ architecture. They can be slowly woken by sufficient damage or spells like speak with dead, but since their packed hordes hold the ceiling up, disturbing them is not a good idea.
More philosophically-minded reptilian monsters sometimes venture down to join them in undeath. So on occasion a dying dragon or other potentate of scales will bind human adventurers to transport its corpse below. Human and human-like life is otherwise treated as a minor, brief irritation. The main hostility comes from the habit of necromancers and subworld creatures sneaking in to get high on bone dust or the titanic skeletons slowly accreted oil of liquid time. These substances provide users with visions of antediluvian ages or a skewing of their temporal senses.
- Suspended dragon bones give off a slow, musical drip of elemental oil into glass vases. The bones are explosively flammable, like osseous dynamite.
- Defrosting kraken. Its stench is awful beyond description and powerful enough to permeate through six whole dungeon levels. Its flesh tastes of ammonia. Desiccated scavenger corpses surround it. Awaiting the taxidermy lich from room
- Huge sarcophagi of titanic beasts, faint skittering sound of flesh-eating beetles within. The swarm’s race memory knows every creature they have devoured for a million years, but can only describe things based on taste, scent and relative chewiness.
- Area previously wrecked by earthquake. Now perilously tottering. A skull here wants the rest of its plundered bones back.
- A great chalice of yellow marble, its rim carved with unfamiliar serpents. Their fangs drip with the oil of coagulated time, a drop perhaps every 1D100 years. A taste allows you to experience your whole life this far with perfect clarity. Your mind is not designed for that.
- A glass dome housing a delicate petrified tree full of tiny mummified archaeopteryxes, which animate and fly upon command. Dust billows up when they take flight, enough to blind and choke those nearby.
- Skeletal giant sloth dealing with infestation of bioluminescent scorpions that fire streams of acid from their tails. Could use a hand.
- A vein of copper interrupts the endless bone architecture. Desiccated trees were placed here aeons ago, and mineral seepage has turned them to solid copper. Someone has mounted fruits and leaves carved from precious metals upon them.
- Albino vampire bats, gorged on the blood of extinct species, they waddle like fattened penguins and explode in gore if wounded. They crave the sanguine fluids of creatures long dead.
- Gnarled fish of living stone, normally able to pass through minerals, they are trapped in a room knee deep in living insects. Hard and black as cannonballs, their beautiful geode stomachs contain gemstones.
- Dinosaur skeletons loom sinisterly, in midst of brief century or so pause. Diplodocus is in endless debate with tyrannosaurus on the dichotomy of predator and prey.
- Library of deeply carven tombstones-like tactile mnemonic devices (lukasa). They recount the history and philosophy of a sightless subterranean culture - caress them long enough and their ancient cultural traits begin to overwrite your own.
- Rebellious triceratops grafting undead flesh to its bones. It’s just a going through a phase.
- Skeletal tortoise oracle, its shell is engraved with a map of the complex. Hates intruders, but slow and non-violent. Will seek to impede them cleverly within those limits.
- Arch of ichthyosaurs guards long dry underground sea. The ghosts of deep sea fish swim silently through the air. Angler fish dangle eerie witch-light lures that attract undead. On the ocean floor far below, a psychic giant brain coral considers submarine philosophy and psionically co-opts any other mental organs it encounters for additional processing power.
- Iron monkeys guard taxidermy-obsessed lich, busy stuffing a two-horned narwhal amidst her many delicate creations. Wants more specimens. You’ll do in a pinch.
- Bottled collection of rare species, preserved in highly flammable dragon bone oil. The mindflayer brain and tentacles keeps instinctively escaping its jar in search of prey.
- Hall of untethered memories drift invisible to the naked eye. They latch onto passing minds, leaving them a confused patchwork of alien recollections.
- Overproud, honour-obsessed mummified naturalists demand matched pair of narwhal horns as duelling weapons to continue their fight. Mind your manners.
- Oily sea of yellow-black oil, perpetually quobbing and quivering amid tidal swells and undulations. Viscous, protean heads half form if intruders bring an offering. It contains the liquid souls of millions of creatures and greatly desires to consume all organic matter in creation. Extremely flammable, but far too large to kill.