Dungeon Crawling

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Link, in search for another shiny new gadget.

"You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike."

Dungeon Crawling is the act of exploring a dungeon (or other dangerous area) while looking for treasure or some other important object. The characters must battle enemies (usually monsters) and use their skills and equipment to negotiate obstacles (usually traps). Usually, but not always, there is a Boss Battle at some point, and a MacGuffin or Plot Coupon at the end.

This is basically what many Role Playing Games (especially video game ones) are all about - at least historically - but it is actually one of The Oldest Ones in the Book, since even myths feature it (a trip into the underworld is part of The Hero's Journey, after all). However, it was the Cliffhanger film serials of the early 20th century that defined the trope, and the Indiana Jones movies that made it popular again later.

The term comes from early RPGs, such as Dungeons & Dragons, that often had the player characters exploring some wizard's dungeon. "Dungeon crawl" is analogous to "pub crawl," a continual stroll from dungeon to dungeon to dungeon.

Note that in Real Life a "dungeon" was a type of prison, often in the lower parts of a castle, but the games expanded it to mean "any ruins or subterranean area." In fact, the term is used today for any dangerous area in an RPG, even open-air ones, as long as the same fight-your-way-across logic applies to it. This is usually to distinguish it from the two other kinds of locale in such games, towns (generally defined as anywhere that has peaceful NPCs or businesses like stores, hotels and bars) and the overworld (which, in most cases, is exclusively for getting between towns and dungeons, with the only real obstacles being Random Encounters.)

Apparently the whole dungeon shtick originated from a skirmish wargame played by Gygax, Arneson and others that involved breaking into a castle through the cellars - this turned out to be so much fun that tunnel fighting became a regular theme (the 'dragon' element, and extended dungeon adventures, came slightly later, after the 'break-in' premise became stale). Stir in Professor Tolkien's Moria scenario for a little fantasy and the rest, as they say, is history.

Dungeon Crawlers are also a subgenre of RPGs in which the story, setting, and town areas (usually one at most) are downplayed in favor of massive dungeons requiring level grinding, trap-avoidance, and endurance. Roguelikes are a subgenre of dungeon crawler, further distinguished by procedural level generation and highly unforgiving game mechanics.

Not to be confused with the game Dungeon Crawl, though it is a good example of this trope.

Compare Adventurer Archaeologist.

Subtropes:

Note: Several other video game settings, such as Temple of Doom, aren't necessarily dungeon-specific - they could also refer to themed Platform Game levels, or to places of relative safety.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The first OVA of Little Witch Academia has Akko, her friends Sucy and Lotte, and resident Alpha Bitch Diana going into a dungeon as a test at their local Wizarding School Luna Nova. The students have to traverse a series of dungeons while collecting rare treasures and dealing with monsters, they even fight a dragon.
  • The main point of Magi – Labyrinth of Magic. People seek to conquer the dangerous dungeons that have started appearing all over the world for fame, glory, and power.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima!:
    • Nodoka is doing this after she gets separated from everyone else during the gateport incident, and choosing her share of treasure like a professional MinMaxer.
    • The Baka Rangers' excursion to Library Island (and everything the Library Expedition Club did) definitely counts too. Nodoka even references it as the source of her trap-spotting skills.
  • This is the entire premise of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Orario is built on top of a multiple-level dungeon, and its entire existence depends on this trope—the plunder from the dungeon monsters is an energy source in the universe, and while a lot of Adventurers do this for sheer heroism, there're also a lot that do it just for living. The story follows the personal growth of an Adventurer who initially does this... to seek a harem.
  • The Tower of Druaga is an anime based off the NES game of the same name. Therefore it lives and breaths the trope to the T. Adventures challenge the titular tower in search of treasure and glory. Should anyone ever manage to reach the top and face Druaga it would be a feat not accomplished since the king (the character from the game).

    Comic Strips 
  • Prince Valiant ran a story where the local dwarves, the Tuatha, kidnap Aleta into their subterranean realm. Val and a group of companions have to pursue them into the dark tunnels, fighting weird monsters and finally discovering the vast underground city of the dwarves. The whole thing was very clearly meant as an affectionate homage to Tabletop Games and this trope.

    Fan Works 
  • Done in The Dresden Fillies when Harry and the mane six enter Trixie's castle to rescue Spike.
  • The four get to go on one of these (and manage to avoid another) in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. They comment on the illogic of the setting; they kill nothing; and they're thoroughly bored with the experience by the time they've looted everything. And they're not real happy when their hours of tedious trudging results in only around 9,000 Swords worth of treasure, when they were hoping for five or six times that amount. They avoid a second dungeon crawl when they arrive at Boidan Mine just after another group of adventurers has already sacked the place but hasn't left yet.

    Films — Animation 

    Literature 
  • One early fantasy depiction of Dungeon Crawling was the Fellowship's passage through the goblin-infested Mines of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring. No treasures or rewards, unless one counts the goal of getting through them to the other end, but the Balrog even provides a final boss of sorts.
  • The Lord Dunsany story The Hoard of the Gibbelins is one of the earliest examples and is close to an Ur-Example of the genre.
  • Common in Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories such as The Jewels in the Forest and Thieves House
  • There are some scenes reminiscent of this trope in Dracula, although they omit the "and take the monster's stuff" step once the monster (Lucy) has been tracked to her underground crypt and dispatched. Later vampire novels have added other elements of this trope, like death-traps (Salem's Lot) and guardians to protect the sleeping undead.
  • The Iron Teeth web serial’s dungeons are formed by crystals, and contain valuable treasures. Monsters such as slimes also dwell within them. One of them is near Herad's base. She was eager to find and explore it, but fortunately she couldn't find the entrance.
  • Seems to be given a knowing nod in the Dragaera story "The Desecrator", in which desecrator is the Dragaeran term for archaeologist, but the job has the typical fantasy cast of raiding ancient structures for treasure and having to fend off magical barriers.
  • In the Alcatraz series, librarians are all either evil cultists or vengeful undead, therefore every time the heroes infiltrate a library, it turns into dungeon crawling with monsters, traps and other dangers.
  • As its title suggests, the majority of the plot of Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth is Dungeon Crawling through the mythical Labyrinth, which actively rearranges its layout and, as a bonus, is borderline-alive and trying to make sure visitors never come out.
  • The Wandering Inn:As expected for an RPG-Mechanics Verse. A dungeon discovered beneath Liscor kicks off a major part of the plot.
  • In Below, a huge underground network of abandoned cities lures in adventurers seeking gold and glory. The book follows a quest for a late wizard's famous treasure, complicated by internal strife and the little matter of the map being fake.

    Live-Action TV 

    Myths & Religion 
  • A number of Ancient Greek heroes (Orpheus, Odysseus, Heracles) go into the Underworld, where they face challenges like from monsters (such as Cerberus), obstacles (such as the River Styx), and gods. Perseus, who doesn't go into the literal Underworld, might be the straightest Ancient Greek version of this trope in the sense of "go underground, kill monsters, take their stuff."
  • The myth of Theseus descending into the Labyrinth to kill the Minotaur to whom Athenian hostages were regularly sacrificed is perhaps one of the oldest known examples of this trope.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons is probably, if not the Trope Namer, at least the Trope Codifier. "Killing evil and stealing its stuff" is the game's unofficial motto, after all.
  • The equally venerable Traveller features Dungeon Crawling in the form of exploring derelict spaceships, asteroid-bases and so on.
  • The Arkham Horror spinoff Mansions Of Madness is this genre as applied to the Cthulhu Mythos, with areas such as churches, university buildings, estate grounds, and the eponymous mansions serving as the dungeon.
  • Betrayal at House on the Hill is a modern-day, horror-based example of this genre. It takes place in the eponymous abandoned house, but features many staples of the genre, such as a graveyard, underground lake, locked vaults, and mysterious eldritch rooms.
  • The old TSR board game Dungeon, which literally is "wander through the wizard's dungeon picking up treasure."
  • Unsurprisingly, the expansive card game series Dungeoneer is centered around dungeon crawls. Interestingly, it allows each player to play as the "dungeon lord" for other players while simultaneously giving each player a PC to explore the dungeon. The cards themselves form the layout of the dungeon like a board game.
  • Descent: Journeys in the Dark is very similar to HeroQuest in its setup and mechanics.
  • Mice and Mystics is a series of dungeon crawls where the players are fantasy characters transformed into mice. It follows a linear story campaign, but is notable in that it is purely cooperative and no player is needed to be the "dungeon master".
  • Mutant Chronicles board game "Siege of the Citadel" is a campaign-style board game with a series of dungeon crawl style assaults on the titular citadel.
  • GURPS has a sub-gameline, Dungeon Fantasy, devoted exclusively to this genre. It is one of the most popular parts of the line.
  • Mage Knight had a variant called Dungeons which pitted teams of heroes against each other as well as against the monsters and traps.
  • Munchkin is nothing but this. Along with much backstabbing and stealing.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay allows for this style of play (alongside many others), and has had many dungeon-based adventures published for its three editions over its thirty-odd year existence. The original Warhammer wargame can be used to stage underground battles between adventurers and monsters too, and this was very much a popular use for it in its early days.
  • HeroQuest was a simple dungeon crawler boardgame, produced jointly by Games Workshop and MB Games in the late 80s iwth the successor Warhammer Quest, set in the Warhammer world. A more complex and in-depth version with some RPG elements called Advanced Heroquest was produced by Games Workshop alone. Sci-fi versions set on giant derelict spacecraft - Space Crusade and Advanced Space Crusade - followed the same pattern.
  • The Games Workshop Board Game Space Hulk is basically this genre Recycled In Space liberally crossed with the James Cameron film Aliens.
  • Thunderstone is a deckbuilding game in which you build your deck in the village, then take it to the dungeon to kill monsters.
  • One of The Splinter's two realities (the Realm) was created as by the citizens of the other (Earthside) to serve as a hyper-realisitic infinite dungeon crawl, making it a diegetic dungeon crawl within a recursive RPG.
  • In keeping with its "Dungeons & Dragons IN SPACE!" origins, Star Frontiers featured this style of play often in its printed adventures, with alien animals filling in for the monsters.
  • Base Raiders: After the world's superheroes and villains all mysteriously disappear an entire underground industry based on locating, breaking into, and looting their abandoned secret bases crops up.

    Video Games 
  • In general, most traditional Roguelike games are dungeon crawls, with very few exceptions. ADOM, NetHack, Crypt Of The Necrodancer, and many, many more.
  • The very core of The Legend of Zelda and its many, many sequels is Dungeon Crawling.
  • Wizardry came out in 1981. But Richard Garriot (of Ultima) released Akalabeth in 1979. The game name comes from part of The Silmarillion; such "homages" were common with Garriot in his early games. Of course, Dungeons and Dragons came out in 1974...around the same time "Dungeon" was a popular game on mainframe computers.
    • Between D&D and Dungeon was pedit5/orthanc1, m199h and dnd for the PLATO Network.
  • Also released in 1979 was Epyx's Temple of Apshai, where the entire point of the game was to enter the Apshai temples, fight the monsters, and grab the loot.
  • A few very early Dungeon Crawlers existed on the Apple.
  • Shin Megami Tensei was originally a classic first-person crawler like those mentioned above, then became a third-person crawler with occasional first-person elements.
  • The Diablo series, which began life as a Roguelike which had you killing demons and undead in a sixteen-level dungeon and ultimately became the Hack and Slash series we know and love today.
  • The Persona series intersperses semi-randomized dungeon crawling with visual novel style character interactions.
  • Most of the non-overworld areas in Dragon's Dogma qualify. Notable in that the game gives the player lots of freedom of movement within the dungeons, often allowing interesting ways to approach obstacles. The expansion/remaster Dark Arisen features Bitterblack Isle, which fits this trope to a T.
  • Etrian Odyssey is a contemporary dungeon crawler that pays homage to games like Wizardry and introduces some spins of its own, most notably the F.O.E.s which are visible boss-like enemies that move with each step you take.
  • Master of the Monster Lair features this — with a dungeon you make yourself — along with a deconstruction of some of the assumptions usually implicit to this premise; having a dungeon near your town is considered desirable, as it acts as a tourist attraction, lures monsters out of the wilderness where they pose more of a danger to ordinary people, and the items monsters hoard in dungeons can be quite valuable. In this game and My World, My Way, which is an otherwise unconnected game that takes place in the same world, "Dungeon Maker" is a respected profession.
  • The Dungeon Maker trilogy, including Dungeon Maker II: The Hidden War, and Adventures to Go!!.
  • Ubiquitous in Final Fantasy games, but the original game has some of the most basic examples. Not surprising, considering how much it owes to D&D.
  • Runescape's Dungeoneering skill is exactly what you'd expect.
  • World of Warcraft, along with the bulk of its MMO kindred, buries most of its best treasure in various dungeons.
  • The Roguelike Dungeon Crawl is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Solomon's Keep for the iPhone is one, where you use a student wizard to traverse the eponymous keep, fight monsters and bosses, loot treasure and defeat the evil necromancer- as his graduation exam, no less.
  • Parodied in Planescape: Torment with the Rubikon Dungeon Construct. The Modrons, beings of pure Law, are trying to study dungeon crawls in order to understand them, so they create a simulated dungeon with randomly generated rooms, filled with identical constructs that drop "loot" which looks valuable but is entirely worthless, even as Vendor Trash. Somewhere in the dungeon is the Evil Wizard Construct, who is a Card-Carrying Villain that you have to fight because that's what evil wizards are for.
  • The many, many caves you have to explore in the various Pokémon games. Places like, for example, Silph Co. and the Pokemon Tower in Lavender Town also count, as they both have stuff to find and are crawling with enemies to defeat, and usually contain one final Boss.
  • A staple of The Elder Scrolls series.
    • Most quests seem to involve as Farengar put it 'delving into an ancient ruin' usually to defeat a particular enemy or to aquire an item for the quest-giver. Usually this is the main method of getting loot such as weapons, armour and other things you can sell at a later date.
    • The core of the Skyrim mod Conan Hyborian Age consists in the exploration of a Bonus Dungeon loosely inspired by Conan the Barbarian (1982) to find an ancient sword forged in a special metal, while fighting the monsters inside.
  • In both Megaman Legends games, the protagonist is a Digger, someone who made exploring the many enigmatic ruins in the Scavenger World their profession. True enough, exploring these ruins is how you acquire most of the equipment and money you need.
  • Star Fox Adventures has both Krazoa Palace and the two Force Point Temples. In terms of gameplay, the four satellital regions of Sauria are explored like dungeons, but they're more into Dungeon Town territory.
  • The trope is downplayed in Ōkami and Ōkamiden, since the dungeons and mini-dungeons are a secondary aspect of the games, both in plot and in gameplay, and only two of them (Moon Cave and Oni Island) are noticeably complex.
  • One of the major gameplay devices in Pikmin 2 is exploring underground caves that are based on different everyday places. These caves can be either short, long or gargantuan, depending on the case. The caves' different sublevels are also semi-randomized; they'll always have the same stuff (Treasures to collect, enemies to defeat, eggs to break, obstacles to destroy or avoid...), but where all that stuff is and where you start off is picked at random every time you reach said sublevel, even by reloading a save.
  • Dungeons are present in the first Baldur's Gate, but almost all of them are optional and relatively small. Most of the time you'll be exploring the wilderness instead. The second game put much more emphasis on dungeons though, with more, larger and more complex dungeons, and very few wilderness areas to explore. Both Expansion Packs added massive Bonus Dungeons for your crawling needs: Durlag's Tower and Watcher's Keep, both of which have multiple levels, nasty monsters and traps, and of course treasure.
  • Legend of Dungeon is, as the name suggests, grossly centered around this. Every new game starts you in the Tavern at the top, and you descend down through the eponymous dungeon, slaying monsters, collecting gold, weapons and other items, all trying to collect one most valuable treasure and then race it aaaaaalll the way back up the 26 dangerous floors you just fought (or ran) down.
  • The second Adventure Time game, Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW!, was a somewhat tedious Gauntlet clone featuring Adventure Time characters and based around clearing out the dungeon under Princess Bubblegum's palace.
  • The original System Shock is a dungeon crawler with shooter combat.
  • Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is part "item shop simulation" and part Dungeon Crawler. For this purpose you choose one of up to 8 different adventurers, go to one of up to 6 different dungeons and start hacking away at monsters to loot useful stuff.
  • The Ys series is all about this, especially the first two games which had very small overworlds thanks to the limited capacity of early computers. The mazes can be sadistic at times, and quite convoluted if you're unlucky enough not to draw up a map. In particular Solomon Shrine and the Tower of Darm are large enough to require half the game's admittedly short length to trek through. While the bosses can be hard and much Level Grinding is required, early on you'll get magic items that let you heal up simply by standing still.
  • In the Borderlands series, alien Vaults replace your standard dungeon. Exploring them makes up a very small part of the game; most if it is actually finding them. Obeying tradition, opening up a Vault always leads to one final boss battle-class monster fight.
  • Although the objective is usually to find someone rather than something, a surprising amount of Mass Effect 2 consists of reskinned dungeon crawls - although the dungeons are usually portrayed as space station environments, incomplete skyscrapers, Krogan hospitals, abandoned experimental compounds, spaceports and spaceships both derelict and functional (on one particularly memorable occasion said ship is a derelict Reaper). True to form, you find treasure (new guns, research projects and money) and regularly fight bosses (mercenary leaders, top-tier Geth, gun-encrusted krogan warlords and Collector Praetorians, to name the major recurring adversaries). There are a couple of exceptions - Archangel's recruitment mission involves defending a location rather than invading it, and most of Grunt's consists of fighting off various kinds of unpleasant Tuchanka wildlife in a semi-open arena - but the majority of missions boil down to "go to place with dungeon-like map, kill everything in it, steal everything useful, complete the primary objective - usually with a big fight of some description - and leave".
  • DragonFable has the 100 Rooms of Doom dungeon.
  • This also happens in the various Mario RPGsnote  in some form or another.
  • Minecraft eventually added a few as late-game content. While they all contain useful treasure such as crafting materials, armor and weapons and enchanted items once you get past their monsters and/or traps, the actual and often unique building materials that make them up are arguably just as much of a draw, as Minecraft is at its core a game a game focused around building things.
    • Ocean monuments spawn in the deep ocean biome, and take the form of flooded temple-like structures inhabited by fish-like Guardians and three stronger Elder Guardians that have to be defeated to access the gold at their centers.
    • End cities shaped like branching structures holding upside-down ziggurats appear in the End. They don't have many monsters besides endermen and camouflaged shulkers, but their chests hold valuable iron, diamonds and enchanted equipment, and rare elytrae which allow you to glide are found only here.
    • Randomly-generated woodland mansions occur in roofed forests, and are composed of a number of randomly-chosen rooms and passages home to evil Villagers winding either axes or limited magic, plus regular monsters. Naturally, there's plenty of loot to be had after the monsters are cleared.
    • There are also desert and jungle temples clearable earlier in the game, with some treasure and useful building materials behind some simple traps.
  • In Shop Heroes, players don't actually do the dungeon-crawling — instead, they dispatch parties of heroes to do it. There are a number of different quests, of varying difficulties. Each quest has a particular rare resource associated with it, which players can use to make better equipment for the dungeon-crawlers.
  • The core gameplay of Starcrawlers involves this. Though considering the sci-fi Cyber Punk nature of the game, the dungeons often consist of corporate offices, labs, spacecraft, and factories, but more traditional mines are an area that can be explored, and most of the story missions involving the Stella Marin are pure dungeon-crawling through the guts of the abandoned ship.
  • The Tower of Druaga is an early arcade game example.
  • Dragon Buster is another arcade game from Namco that does this.
  • The Gauntlet series takes from two to four players through a variable number of different dungeon levels.
  • Arkandian Legends, though only one half, the other's a Strategy RPG.
  • Darkest Dungeon, as one would expect from the name. The Ruins were once the seat of the family's power, now twisted by eldritch forces and overrun with the undead. The Warrens are an ancient network of aqueducts and tunnels, overrun by discarded summoning experiments known as the Swine. For looser definitions of "dungeon", there are also the Cove (a maze of caves haunted by pelagics and their allies), the Weald (a claustrophobic forest swarming with monstrous fungi), and (with the Crimson Court DLC) the Courtyard (a lavish garden transformed into a decaying marsh infested with half-mosquito vampires). Looming above it all, with a difficulty level of 6, is the Darkest Dungeon itself, a nightmare of powerful enemies, stress symbols, red mist, flesh, organs...

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick started off as this, before the Cerebus Syndrome hit it. One of the compilation books is even called Dungeon Crawling Fools. There's also a lampshading of the activity by the cleric Mallack in reference to his membership in an evil adventuring party, "Ah, the life of an adventuring cleric. I remember it well. A perpetual struggle to maintain the hit point totals of four or five nigh-suicidal tomb robbers determined to deplete them at all costs."
  • In Hero Oh Hero, the town of Rauel's economy is based on raiding dungeons which appear in the desert and disappear 24 hours later.
  • Scenes From A Multiverse: The basis of the immensely popular Dungeon Divers storyline, SFAM’s longest ongoing plot to date.

    Web Original 
  • A common setting for every other story arc in Desolate Era. The hero travels through them to gain experience, insight, and of course, treasure.
  • Under the surface of the world of Mother of Learning is an enormous catacomb of tunnels literally referred to as "The Dungeon". Many missions for young mages involve going down into the dungeons.
  • Created by an adventurer long ago for the purposes of younger adventurers to gain EXP, the dungeons of Overlord Ascendant are omnipresent.

    Western Animation 
  • ReBoot has one of these during the episode Wizards, Warriors, And A Word From Our Sponsors. 66 floors of RPG references and parodies.
  • Parodied in the episode "The Dragon Pig" in the Season 2 of Wakfu. The Dragon Pig's lair is built like a typical RPG-dungeon, giving Tristepin an edge due to being "the only one of us with experience from dungeon crawls".
  • As a Heroic Fantasy parody with a heavy RPG influence, Adventure Time has several examples, in particular "Dungeon", "Guardians of Sunshine", "The Limit", "Dad's Dungeon", "Lady & Peebles", "Mystery Dungeon", "Vault of Bones"...

    Real Life 
  • It is the job of Tunnel Rats (most notably in Vietnam and other guerrilla wars) to crawl into insurgent tunnel complexes to search for weapons, intelligence and the enemy. Being a tunnel rat is one of the worst jobs one can draw as it was highly dangerous and possibly one of the quickest paths to PTSD.
  • This has been the job of military engineers since fortification was invented. One of the main ways to break down a wall, if you can do it, is to dig under the wall, burn the supports to the tunnels and let gravity do its job (it's more effective setting off a charge of gunpowder but works more or less the same). One of the most effective counters to that is to dig under that tunnel and do the same thing. If two tunnels run into each other they fight underground. Now do you see just one reason why The Engineer is considered a badass kind of soldier?

Alternative Title(s): Dungeon Crawler

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DungeonCrawling