Dungeon Crawls in Fiction


Aside from D&D tie-in novels, can you think of any fantasy novels that deal with a dungeon crawl? I can only think of a few, and even then only cursorily (e.g. The Mines of Moria in LOTR, Tombs of Atuan).

Are there any good fantasy novels that really feature a dungron crawl?


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    I can't think of any, but I'm not as widely read as some other members.

    However, I'm keen to speculate why dungeon crawls are much more popular in games than in fiction: Limited options. The subterranean environment limits the type of things that can happen to what is plausible when walled in by tons and tons of rock. In a game, having limited options is a positive, because it presents players with a clear set of options to choose among. Games are all about player choice, and having too many options can be as bad as having none at all.

    On the other hand, fiction, in my opinion, can better develop the surprises that come with plentiful options, and also exploring the context of character actions. Dungeons generally limit options and the context of how those options affect the rest of the fictional world.

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    A great discussion topic!

    I like @Michael_S_Miller 's point about the pros and cons of limited choice. To that I'd add character arc. A novel thrives on having one or more characters forced to adapt and change in some way - more intricate novels often have characters with opposing arcs, so one is in the ascendant while the other declines, and so on.

    Dungeon crawls (it seems to me) work through having a bunch of characters having to survive and overcome some set of problems just with the resources they have to hand, possibly diminishing as they use up supplies. Rewards happen after the dungeon has been survived.

    An example might be Hiero's Journey, which we read together a while back. It feels like it could have emerged from a game, in which Hiero alternates between dungeon crawl type situations (one of which was actually in a dungeon, though most were above ground) in which he manages with what he's got, and then "goes up a level" by means of acquiring some new skill or ability, during a time if reflection in the aftermath.
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    Are pulp adventure novels the literary equivalent to dungeons? Simple structure, limited locations, few choices at each juncture?

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    I think the question of limited options is a bit of a red herring in this context. There are many fine novels that have few characters and/or limited settings - especially a lot of horror and mystery fiction. Something like The Haunting of Hill House, for example, has a very limited setting.

    I'm also reminded of The Terror, by Dan Simmons, which spans 0ver 800 pages of the last days of the Franklin Expedition where they are trapped on the ice - either in their ships, or later trekking across barren wilderness. It's not so much that they don't have places to go, as that it doesn't matter where they go - every direction is the same.

    So I don't think there's anything particularly about a dungeon environment that would not lend itself to fiction. There's plenty of scope for doing something like Heart of Darkness (in fact, why couldn't Heart of Darkness be recast as a dungeon crawl?) I think the trick would be to think beyond monsters and traps, because fights and escapes alone don't offer a lot of potential. The interactions between the main characters could offer a lot of scope. As could the antagonist. Lots of psychological thriller potential, I think.

    @RichardAbbott Hiero's Journey did actually read a lot like what's called a 'hex crawl', which is basically a wilderness dungeon crawl - so called because of the hexagonal graph paper often used for exterior maps (as opposed to the quad paper used for interior maps).

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    edited January 4

    Searching elsewhere, here are some titles I turned up:

    The Waking God by Mike Shel (himself an rpg adventure writer, apparently)
    The Dungeoneers series by Jeffrey Russell
    Quag Keep, by Andre Norton (1978 - apparently the first D&D novel)
    Promise of the Witch King by R.A. Salvatore - apparently written to refute the idea that a good dungeon crawl novel can't be written).
    Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
    The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp - billed as a S&S / D&D-esque adventure. One of a series.
    Theft of Swords by Michael Sullivan
    Below by Lee Gaiteri
    The City & The Dungeon by Matthew Schmidt
    The Copper Promise by Jen Williams
    Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe
    The Shard by Ted Cross
    The Silver Call by Dennis McKiernen

    Far from being original treatments of the theme, though, they mostly seem to be full of the tropes of D&D, with elves and dwarves and placenames like 'Dwarvenholt' and 'Crosshaven', 'Wintertide' and 'Heartwyld'. This is more or less what I expected the genre to look like (love letters to D&D), but not at all like what I had hoped to find (the kind of thing that might have inspired D&D dungeon crawling to begin with).

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    @Apocryphal said:
    Searching elsewhere, here are some titles I turned up:

    Quag Keep, by Andre Norton (1978 - apparently the first D&D novel)

    An Andre Norton novel I have not only not read, but never even heard of... which surprised me somewhat

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