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Dungeon-Based Economy

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"Oh, lordy me, yes! There's a new dungeon. This one has been said to hold new food and medicine for us! We must make haste to secure its treasures!"

Dungeon Crawling is very dangerous, but also surprisingly lucrative. In some works of adventure fantasy, the dungeons are big enough business to support a whole town or civilisation. Either from the "tourism" money brought in by treasure hunters, or the treasure itself (or both).

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This trope manifests differently depending on the medium. In some video games this can take An Economy Is You to the logical conclusion; the player can invest wealth from the dungeon (or from quest rewards from requests posted by rich patrons that require trips into said dungeon) to improve the town's facilities, gradually building a tiny hamlet into a thriving town where, naturally, almost every business caters primarily to adventurers who explore dungeons. On the other hand, more narrative based settings involve towns situated over and around enormous dungeon complexes with thriving communities of delvers and associated businesses.

This often invokes some degree of Fridge Logic over where the dungeons come from if it isn't the source of an Ontological Mystery. The setting could simply be a Scavenger World or Death World, where unexplored ruins are commonplace. Alternatively, a single dungeon (and/or the forces behind it) could turn a nearby settlement into a City of Adventure.

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Often the result of a Player-Generated Economy or an RPG-Mechanics Verse. If war breaks out, this might lead to an Archaeological Arms Race.

Organ Drops are often a cornerstone of such an economy, as many monsters (and dungeon-native plants) would logically have useful body parts that can be processed for weapons, armor, and potion-brewing, or otherwise serve as active reagants for local spellcasters and alchemists. Naturally, some of the shops that buy these monster parts may also make profits on exporting (Smuggling is such an ugly word) the 'loot' to artisans and smithys from other neighboring towns.

The most common facilities found in such economies include Guild Halls (which provide room and board for Adventurers, in addition to assisting in administrative services like hiring/firing and registering Quests), Taverns (which deal in information and Sidequests, as well as booze), Training Halls (where the town's guardsmen train and where veteran instructors teach vital skills), Item Shops (selling consumables like potions and escape ropes), Armories and Smithies (selling weapons, armor, and reforging services), Medical Facilities (providing training for party healers and helping to put your team back together in the event someone gets mauled/fried/squashed), Churches (for the party clerics and actual resurrections), and Wizard/Witch Shops (where magic users can trade spells and reagants).

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Examples:

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     Anime and Manga 
  • In Delicious in Dungeon, dungeon crawling is a major profession, including supporting niche industries like body recovery, tourism, and maintaining campgrounds. The sunken kingdom the manga focuses on is the center of the Island's economy. However, this is shown to be ultimately unsustainable. The upper levels of the kingdom have been picked clean already, so most of the wealth is from searching for secret passages, harvesting monster parts, or trading with the orcs and outlaws that decided to live in the dungeon.
    • Even more interestingly, a flashback with Marcille shows that dungeons are a natural phenomenon. Old, subterranean ruins sometimes become dungeons naturally, but her classmate Farlyn spends a lot of time in a dungeon that's just a tiny grotto chock-full of magical energy, and the right enchantments can make even a jar full of layered wood and dirt generate magic, which will then spawn monsters. Marcille's ambition is to build a "managed" dungeon in which people can farm non-hostile monsters and magical plants safely, instead of risking their lives dungeon crawling like adventurers.
  • Ruin Explorers derives its name from that concept. Local villages thrive off the exploits of brave adventurers, who sell them the relics, tomes, and treasure looted from ancient ruins. Merchants then sell those goods to scholars, collectors, or other adventurers.
  • Economy in Slayers works the same way, albeit to a lesser extent. Whenever Lina's strapped for cash, she'll sell merchants whatever she's looted from local bandits, or any treasure she's carrying, but doesn't have a need for. If need be, she can even use magic to convert her loot into rare items with higher resale value.
  • Rune Soldier Louie: The Adventurers Guild trains warriors and mages to prepare them for exploring ancient shrines and tombs, which is how they earn their living. Genie, Melissa, and Merril come to Ophun in search of a female mage for their travelling party (all they have is a healer). Unfortunately for them, they wind up with Louie instead.
  • In the world of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, The dungeon works like a coal mine. Adventurers go into the dungeon and harvest the magic stones from monsters, which are then used by the guild to produce power sources for appliances and other purposes.
  • Log Horizon: The world of the series being an MMORPG that suddenly became all too real for all the players, it's unsurprising that the only source of gold in the setting are monsters. The entire economy of Akihabara, once it's kick-started by more enterprising Adventurers, springs from monster-hunting and dungeon-raiding for money and high-level resources and artifacts.
  • Maze City from I Am Behemoth Of The S Rank But I Am Mistaken As A Cat And I Live As A Pet Of Elf Girl was built with massive walls to stop the labyrinth's monsters from swarming the world. The city prospers because adventurers go into the labyrinth dungeon to get materials that merchants use for various things, or sell in trade to other countries.

     Films 
  • In The Force Awakens, Jakku is a scavenger economy living off the remains of the final, massive battle between the Rebel Alliance and the post-Endor remnants of the Empire. People travel the desert looking for derelict machine parts they can salvage and sell or trade for food.

     Literature 
  • Implied in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Ron off-handedly mentions in a letter to Harry that his eldest brother Bill makes his living breaking curses on Egyptian tombs for Gringotts Bank (implying that Gringotts then mines the grave goods).
  • In The Night's Dawn Trilogy, the colony of Tranquillity was established near the remains of an ancient alien civilisation. Exploring these ruins for valuable artefacts is one of the colony's more lucrative industries.
  • In The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, set Just Before the End in a very, very far-future Earth, the planet has been inhabited for so long that "mining" is basically dungeon-crawling for artifacts, or simply scrap metal.
  • In Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings, the Rain Wild traders make their living by trading artifacts found among the ruins of a mysterious forgotten Civilization.
  • The City And The Dungeon thoroughly explores and deconstructs this. The City’s entire economy is built entirely around the Dungeon and it’s infinitely regenerating treasure and magical energy. Numerous niche markets are based around the Dungeon, most notably a growing market for pieces of the Dungeon that still function, such as Dungeon doors with alarm traps being reworked into doorbells. The failure rates for new delvers is ridiculously high, while successful delvers quickly become so wealthy that they can crash the economies of entire nations by themselves, resulting in them being mostly forbidden from leaving the City or interfering with the outside world.
  • The Dark Profit Saga throws venture capitalism into the mix. 40% of the world's economy is based on the Heroes' Guild sending out professional adventurers on quests, outfitting those "heroes" with magic items, and buying or selling shares in the loot from quests. But, the return is diminishing, early in the first book a sixteen thousand giltin investment in the slaying of a chimera yields 6 shillings, 1 pence, and a deceased hoard adjuster's notebook reading "the beaste hath nothing". Which leads to the world's biggest investment firm conspiring with the government.
  • In the web serial The Salamanders the economy relies on the bringing loot, foodstuffs, monster parts, and magical crystals back from the mysterious Towers. When the Guild seals off access for a few days, people begin to protest and even riot.

     Tabletop Games 
  • The Ninth World setting from Numenera RPG is based around this concept. Growing up among the ruins of the previous eight great civilizations, the Ninth Worlders seek out their secrets (by crawling through said ruins) to build their own great civilization, piece by piece.
  • In Alchemists the players are university researchers trying to develop new alchemical recipes. Buying magical artifacts and publishing alchemical theories is costly so the alchemists need to earn money to fund their academic endeavors. They can try to get grants or perform X-to-gold transmutations but the fastest way to get a lot of cash is to sell potions to the various adventurers who visit the town.
  • Vault Wars is a spoof of Storage Wars where the players are entrepreneurs bidding on storage vaults left by adventurers who died while exploring dungeons. Some of the vaults contain priceless treasures the adventurers looted on their previous expeditions while others contain worthless junk. The players have been contracted by adventurer-wannabes who want to buy sets of equipment to start their own dungeon delving careers.
  • In Dungeon Bazaar the players are merchants who sell equipment to adventures seeking to explore the nearby dungeon. The equipment is actually salvage obtained from all the prior adventurers who died in the dungeon. Apparently the merchants have an "arrangement" with the dragon that lives in the dungeon.
  • Stormbringer/Elric supplement Stormbringer Companion, adventure "The Hall of Risk". A section at the end lists further adventuring possibilities, such as setting up businesses outside of the Hall to cater to adventurers going inside.
  • Earthdawn adventure Parlainth: The Forgotten City. The town of Haven was carved out of the ruined city of Parlainth. It is dedicated to servicing and supporting the adventurers who explore the rest of Parlainth.
  • Games Workshop games:
    • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay's second edition features a campaign set in the fallen dwarfhold of Karak Azgal, an expy of Erebor that was laired by a dragon. The dragon is long gone, but the vast underground city is filled with monsters and dwarfen wealth, resulting in a Boom Town of opportunistic treasure hunters and adventurers known as Skalf's Hold (named for and founded by the dwarf hero who slew the dragon). The dwarfs maintain strict control over access to the underground; dungeon delvers are required to pay a toll to enter and a tax on any relics they find. Over time the influx of explorers and immigrants grew so large that a second boom town called Deadgate sprang up outside of Skalf's Hold, filled with merchants and diversions extracting coin from adventurers.
    • In Warhammer 40,000, whenever a Space Hulk appears in a system, it's usually followed by every local with a ship (and sometimes official factions like the Adeptus Mechanicus) attempting to enter and loot the millenia-old technology. This is extremely stupid, as hulks are often used by tyranids and orks as transportation devices, making them aware of an inhabited system to eat/plunder nearby.
    • Necromunda is set in a hive city, a kilometers-tall spire continually built up, so lower levels are full of archeotech, advanced weaponry and valuable raw materials that locals dig for. These levels are also full of mutants, outcasts and giant spiders, as well as rival gangs after the same thing.
    • In the RPG Rogue Trader the characters are essentially an economy unto themselves and can easily create wealth out of plundering archaeotech and other ancient prizes in the setting's equivalent to dungeons both space-borne and planetary.
  • In Eberron, the city of Stormreach bases a not-insignificant part of its economy on the artifact trade out of the ruins of the ancient giant civilization across Xen'drik, along with other forms of exploitation of the continent's resources. As a result, the people of Sharn back on Khorvaire also turn a pleasant profit from the Xen'drik trade (in both directions), as Sharn is the closest safe port to Stormreach.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has gone to varying lengths to justify this or not in its settings. The history of any given D&D world is packed full of fallen ancient empires rich in magic and gold, and while modern economies are largely self-sufficient, adventurers are a known factor who occasionally drag in hauls of fantastic wealth. The Tomb of Horrors novelization justified the dungeon-delving plot as an expedition funded by the nation of Nyrond, chasing rumors of ancient wealth after being impoverished by the Greyhawk Wars.
    • 5th Edition's Tales From The Yawning Portal (a series of modules including an updated Tomb of Horrors) talks about eponymous Yawning Portal tavern, so named because it includes a massive pit that leads to an enormous underground dungeon called Undermountain. Not only does it provide an excellent place to meet fellow adventurers and quest-givers, you can pay to travel down the pit and into the dungeon... either just to run right back up so you can say that you did, or to actually try to clean house and bring out some fat loot.
  • Pathfinder uses similar city mechanics to its predecessor, though one nation in particular, Numeria, uses brings this trope out in full effect. Numeria is the site of a spaceship crash thousands of years ago, which scattered extremely advanced tech among the warring barbarian tribes in the area. The ship itself, later called the Silver Mount, has become the single largest economic factor in Numeria, as adventurers come from around the world to plumb its depths for unique, and often broken, equipment.
    • Even non-adventurers have integrated this into their daily lives. One of the most popular pastimes in Numeria is shooting the ground and drinking the Numerian Fluid - which consists of brake fluid, engine coolant, or myriad other things - that bubbles up.
  • Goodman Games' X-Crawl setting takes place in a world that is "modern-day" except for the fantasy races and magic and that has made dungeon crawling its most lucrative extreme sport, a Deadly Game and Immoral Reality Show in which the people that survive the longest (and are more spectacular in their survival) are bound to get better sponsorship opportunities.

     Video Games 
  • Recettear: You run the local item shop for adventurers who go out to dungeons. You get to follow them into the dungeon if you want to. Part of the story even involves how the dungeons work.
  • The FATE games concern a series of towns that developed around vast dungeons (at least one of them hypothetically infinite) in order to serve the adventurers.
  • Played with and ultimately inverted in Diablo. An otherwise normal village was made capital of its country because its local church housed one of the lords of Hell in a secret catacomb. The Prime Evil gradually corrupted the king, who bent the kingdom to ruin, but for a while, the town did well by selling to adventurers venturing into the church to fight demons. by the sequels, however, the demons had overrun the town and killed everyone.
  • Darkest Dungeon: The player inherits a hamlet beset by horrors unleashed by their ancestor and hires parties of adventurers to delve into their lairs and recover loot and family relics, used to upgrade buildings in the town.
  • In The Enchanted Cave, the town is explicitly based on serving the adventurers who come to loot the dungeon—which in turn was deliberately stocked with gold by a villain who can easily create it, in order to attract test subjects.
  • Etrian Odyssey has base camp towns at the entrance of dungeons that become more prosperous and better-equipped as adventurers recover valuable materials and Organ Drops from within. The hard bits of monsters can be crafted into equipment, and chemicals derived from plant material can be used to concoct healing potions and such, for example. Later games actually reduce the prices of some of the restorative items you can buy, but balance that with requiring the player to harvest the necessary active ingredients for brewing them first.
    • The reason for these Labyrinths being so bountiful and full of natural resources is revealed at the endgame: Most of the Labyrinths created in the main EO games are part of a Yggdrasil Project, a massive undertaking by both human and alien hands to restore the ecosystem and make it capable of supporting life once more after some cataclysmic disasters. Therefore, these Labyrinths generally produce a lot of precious plant and animal resources as part of their function.
    • Reality Ensues in the True Ending for the first game, as the loss of the dungeon via destruction of the berserk Yggdrasil Core means that the inhabitants of the base camp town would drift off to other locations with the loss of a steady income of materials. The remake fixes this, instead having you save the woodsfolk from a deadly disease, stopping a pointless apocalypse started from a rogue AI (due to it deciding bullheadedly to fire the Gungir despite there being too much collateral damage from its blast), and capping it all by destroying the Eldritch Abomination lurking at the final bottom of the dungeon (The aforementioned Berserk Yggdrasil Core that the Gungnir was meant to terminate in the event of the Core going crazy).
    • Fafnir Knight features a restaurant that the player's Story Mode party is requested to support. This place not only uses monster meat and plants from the Labyrinth for cuisine, but also provides buffs with the meals thus created.
    • Etrian Mystery Dungeon allows the player's guild to invest in the facilities that serve the town, allowing them to build up to provide more and better services. Part of the gameplay requires the player to then invest in defenses to prevent the massive D.O.E. monsters from clawing their way out of dungeons to attack the town, destroying all the built-up facilities when they do so.
  • Azure Dreams: all the economy is around the eponymous tower in the center of the town where adventurers gather to get their mons and some other materials that are obtainable there. The player has the capacity to literally use the dungeon economy to build up the town.
  • In Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals the town of Gruberirk is built around this, as most of the economy comes and deals with items found in the dungeon. Basically it is where the Ancient Cave lies.
  • In the backstory of The Legend of Legacy, the mysterious continent of Avalon suddenly appeared, and the city of Initium was founded both to sell supplies to adventurers and to buy any treasure they come back with.
  • The human civilization of Mega Man Legends relies on people known as Diggers to secure new power sources after the world's landmasses sunk under the oceans. It is fair to say that the economy and survival of a town rests on Diggers going into Precursor ruins to find energy crystals and bring them back intact.
  • In Destiny, a significant part of the Last City's economy depends on the Guardians going out into the wilds and recovering various items from either Golden Age ruins or humanity's myriad enemies. A particularly valuable resource is Glimmer, a programmable material used in nearly every industry in the City, which is often taken from old caches, enemy bodies, or Golden Age machines that mine out suitable matter to convert to Glimmer.

     Web Comics 
  • In Hero Oh Hero, the desert town of Rauel gets all its resources from the dungeons which spring up (traps, enemies and all) for 24-hours and disappear. It's so common that the townsfolk consider them a natural resource. While it's routine, it can still be very dangerous, as the first chapter demonstrates.
  • A town in The Order of the Stick gets wind of adventurers coming and hurries to put price stickers on everything adventurers might be interested in buying before they arrive (including on an old guy in a rocking chair reading "cryptic ramblings from an old man").
    • Justified with Kraagor's Tomb. It was created to protect one of the Gate's preventing the end of the world and has very powerful magic that causes the monsters that inhabit it to regularly re-spawn. A colony of Bugbears has taken up residence nearby killing and taming the monsters for food and other supplies.
  • Nodwick is all around this trope. Adventurers have the whole "bring everything nailed to the ground" mentality and the henchmen to carry it out. It is a plot point in some adventures. Not to mention the building where all the stuff gets sold is called the Tomb Depot.
  • The world of the Dungeon Divers storyline in Scenes from a Multiverse.
  • Full Frontal Nerdity has one storyline that ends in Nelson derailing the campaign so hard he ends up king, and proceeds to intentionally build the kingdom's economy around finding and plundering dungeons of their wealth and magic items in the most efficient, systematic manner possible, using government teams of adventurers.
  • Ingress Adventuring Company is based entirely on this trope. The story follows one adventurer's quests, starting off the story with a classic crawl into a monster-filled dungeon.
  • In an early arc of Flaky Pastry, the protagonists embark into a hundred floor dungeon to acquire an artifact at the lowest level for the Wizard. They succeed, but in the process wreck the dungeon, which makes the Wizard less than happy since he was making a lot of money selling supplies to would-be adventurers...

     Real Life 
  • Oak Island, Nova Scotia, has an economy revolving around the Oak Island Money Pit, where (allegedly) Blackbeard or another pirate buried treasure long ago.

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