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Dungeon Crawling
aka: Dungeon Crawler

"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. Stir in Professor Tolkien's Moria scenario for a little fantasy and the rest, as they say, is history.

With the increasing trend towards Wide Open Sandbox-type game designs, the term "Dungeon Crawl" has taken on a certain derogatory connotation when used to describe a game. It is usually synonymous with The Maze, which not only represents the opposing linear game design tradition, but also implies developer laziness. The ease with which a dungeon generally forces players to follow one path through a game and keep them tied up for a long time in a small space, all without having to resort to illogical barriers, is all too easy for developers, and annoying to players. Dungeons, after all, are reasonably expected to be fully enclosed structures whose walls are well reinforced — often by the very earth itself, if located underground, as they often are — making a single, static path through them more or less "justified". Dungeon Crawls often cheaply limit options for traversing them using a spaghetti strand of enclosed corridors, keys and doors, and other barriers requiring unique items to surmount them — all of which are less realistically implemented in a wide-open setting.

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:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

  • 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! has Nodoka 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.

     Fanfiction  

  • Done in The Dresden Fillies when Harry and the mane six enter Trixie's castle to rescue Spike.

     Literature  

  • One early fantasy depiction of Dungeon Crawling was the Fellowship's passage through Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • Very common in Sword and Sorcery fiction:
  • 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.
  • Seems to be given a knowing nod in the Dragaera story "The Desecrator", in which desecrator is the Dragaeran term for archeologist, but the job has the typical fantasy cast of raiding ancient structures for treasure and having to fend off magical barriers.
  • In the Literature/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.

     Live Action TV  

     Mythology  

  • 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. It's as early as Rome that the scene starts getting deconstructed. 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."
  • Theseus and the Minotaur.

     Newspaper Comics  
  • A few years ago, 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.

     Tabletop Games  

  • 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.
  • Similarly, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a modern-day, horror-based example of this genre.
  • Dragon Fable has the 100 Rooms of Doom dungeon.
  • 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.
    • And there is also the old TSR board game 'Dungeon', which literally is "Wander through the wizard's dungeon picking up treasure."
    • Interesting to note is that when Gary Gygax started making fantasy rules for Chainmail, D&D's precursor, he moved the action from standard tabletop war game battlefields to underground dungeons so he could save time and money on designing maps.
  • 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, 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.
  • Warhammer Quest was a dungeon crawl themed board/tabletop game with RPG elements, also set in the Warhammer world.
  • 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.
  • 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 TheSplinter'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.

     Video Games  

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • As mentioned above, 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.
  • 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 gargantuam, depending on the case.
  • 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.

     Webcomics  

  • 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."

    Web Original 

  • 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.

     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 Dragon Pig episode 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".
  • Adventure Time: "Vault of Bones" has Finn take Flame Princess to a real life version of a dungeon crawl. It plays out much like that sort of video game would.
    • Got a video game adaptation called Explore the Dungeon Because I Don't Know! that will be set entirely in Princess Bubblegum's dungeon.

     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 also been the job of military enginneers 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?


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alternative title(s): Dungeon Crawler
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