Metro System Dungeon?

I’m trying to design a metro system as a dungeon. There will be three train lines, across maybe a handful of stations. If possible, I would rather design the dungeon as an abstraction of a metro system, rather than having to literally design a metro system, but it may be unavoidable.

Basically the party starts on one train and need to find their target on another train, while simultaneously evading their pursuers. So they’ll need to hop from train car to train car, figure out how to interpret the signage for the lines and stops and times, and then maintain cover at the stations. For reasons I don’t need to get into, there’s no way for them to exit the stations and it’s basically a closed-loop, although that could be made to be flexible, but if not, then that makes things at least a little easier.

I haven’t had a chance to think about it too much yet but I’m pretty sure I can kind of flub it, but I’d be interested to hear ideas.


Is the metro system still in use? If it’s like an abandoned subway and you’re going for more fantastical elements, you could have massive worms disguised as trains that will try to consume the players if they enter. You could also have non-hostile NPCs inside the trains, maybe the ghosts of past commuters or weird merchants traveling with their goods.

It’s in one of the Numberless Courts of Hell so I’ve got the fantastical part down ;). I’m mainly concerned with the actual logistics of it; how to design a dungeon as an active circuit without it being too complicated.

Oh! In that case, you could have trains arrive at the station concurrently with your wandering monster checks. For example, every three turns, a train arrives. You can make your usual encounter roll, and you could even have the wandering monster appear from inside the train. This wouldn’t simulate the whole system as a circuit, but it roughly simulates the experience of waiting for a train at a stop! Then, while the players are on the train, you can roll d3 or d6 to determine how many turns it takes to arrive at the next destination.

Will your players mainly be traveling from stop to stop, or do you expect them to investigate individual stations too? It could be fun to give them some exploration opportunities while waiting for the next train, also knowing that a threat could be on the other side.

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re: stop-to-stop vs. taking time to investigate each station, I haven’t quite gotten that far yet. Might depend on timing, but I’d like for there to be at least something there, even if it’s just a random roll table of whacky people, things, or events at the station.

I like the idea of just setting the time of arrival to a turn countdown, and there could even be a bit of randomness of which train arrives if the frequency of arrivals is high enough, and just let randomness simulate the “reality” of the metro system…

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A random roll table would be a really good idea! You could maybe make a new topic in the Dice Democracy category, asking for random metro station hijinks in Hell!

Using randomness to simulate/abstract reality is always the easiest way to go about it. I like to think that’s why we roll dice in general–because the actual mechanics of the situation are always too detailed to simulate head-on. To increase randomness, you could have a train arrive every d4 turns from the previous train, which makes them a little more stressful to anticipate. Especially if there’s something evil stepping out of the train!

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Haven’t had a chance to do the stations yet (game isn’t for 5 more hours I’ve got time >.<!) but here’s what I’ve got for the trains and the general mechanics:

The trains are cyborg snake devils. The three lines at this station are H (harvest gold snake), E (eggshell snake), and L (lime snake). Trains arrive / reach a stop every 1d4 turns. They loop over around the same handful of stations, never really going anywhere.

H Train (Harvest Gold):

The train itself is powered by poltergeists. They shovel a bottomless pile of hay with their pitchforks and dump it into a whimpering vent that sputters toxic fumes. The poltergeists are monitored by grasshopper devils.

Encounters (1d4)

  1. Vent Malfunction: An explosive burst, toxic fumes spread throughout the train. The fumes are themselves a hungry poltergeist.
  2. Pink Grasshopper: One of the grasshoppers turns pink and spontaneously break-dances on the train, creating a disturbance. The other grasshoppers are befuddled. The poltergeists stop working and the train comes to a halt but it’s an awesome dance party…
  3. Super-Ant: A super-ant poltergeist revolts against the grasshoppers and battle breaks out. The train comes to a halt.
  4. Crying Hay: A pile of hay is softly whimpering. If the party investigates, they learn that a poltergeist was mistakenly reincarnated into the Hell itself as hay.

E Train (Eggshell):

The poltergeists are tightly chained to their seats and force-fed Kaifeng Fried Chicken’s Famous Schmaltz Mashed Potatoes. Pig devils will slice them open when they’ve gotten fat enough and harvest an egg-shaped fatty deposit, then sew them back up.

Encounters (1d4)

  1. The Eggless: A morbidly obese poltergeist keeps eating and eating, but every time it’s sliced open, there’s no egg. It looks ready to burst…
  2. A live One: One of the eggs becomes a vessel for a poltergeist accidentally reincarnated into the Hell. It grows into a human-sized balut monster.
  3. 404: A pig devil, recognizing that the party are neither devils nor poltergeists but not knowing how else to categorize them, assumes the party must be Kaifeng Fried Chicken’s Famous Schmaltz Mashed Potatoes and tries to force feed the party to the poltergeists.
  4. Hungry: WIS Roll (resist Karmic desire) party feels momentarily compelled to eat the delicious Kaifeng Fried Chicken’s Famous Schmaltz Mashed Potatoes. If they eat, they grow morbidly obese for 1d4 hours. They are slow, but resilient.

L Train (Lime):

The poltergeists are all doing incredibly tedious computer work. Lime-colored snake devils spit acid into their eyes, supposedly these eye drops increase efficiency by 0.0001%.

Encounters (1d4)

  1. Snake Eyes: NAT save or get acid spit in their eyes. Take Nd6 Damage but +Wd4 for 1d4 hours. Everything appears hyper-real, crisp, and vibrant. One can easily recognize objects and fields and how they interrelate.
  2. AI: A poltergeist is accidentally reincarnated into the Hell as an emergent AI on one of the computers. It calls out to the party for help, but the FANG software engineer poltergeist will refuse to let the party take its computer.
  3. Excuse-Me-Sir Malware: The party feels an intruding presence in their consciousnesses. One of the poltergeists has hacked into their Karma and planted a nature spirit malware. PRO Conflict to resist the salesperson who has knocked on the door of their mind castle.
  4. Karmabot: A collection of broken and discarded laptops combine into a large humanoid monstrosity. Its head is an open laptop with a cracked monitor, with each shard appearing as a different person or creature composing a singular face. The nature spirit imprints on the nearest PC, but it does not know its own strength.

I might tune some of these up, but here are the stations:

Rat Crossing Station:

A filthy station full of trash and grungy poltergeists. Anything of value placed on the ground or out of sight is immediately snatched by a gang of ravenous rat devils.

Encounters (1d4)

  1. Rat Jack: A long-faced, buck-toothed poltergeist nibbles on a block of cheese held tightly to his face by greasy little hands, and mumbles to himself. He whistles to the party to get their attention. He recognizes that they don’t belong and offers to help. In fact, he was a rat in his last life, and is awaiting reincarnation, and will do any underhanded thing he can to get a better reincarnation. He will eventually betray the party, although with PRO he may be convinced that betrayal is improper, or WIS that that is not how one divests their karma. Appeals to NAT will most likely lead to violent conflict.
  2. Twisted Caduceus: The Rat King accidentally mixes the signals, causing two cyborg snake trains to become knotted, violently whipping across the station and wreaking havoc and destruction. If the party untangle the trains, one of the cyborg snake train devils will give the party a Quickening Potion of False Promises.
  3. Rat Queen: A massive tangle of rat devils blocks the line. They cannot untangle themselves, but are hostile to any assistance.
  4. Mouse Trap: A rogue poltergeist has been laying mouse traps for the rat devils. A team of security rat devils are sweeping the station and aggressively interrogating everybody, and the station is on lockdown until the poltergeist is found.

Jiangshi Station:

The station is pristine and luxurious, but gaudy, as are the poltergeists in waiting. The poltergeists are opulent, but there is a heavy anxiety permeating through the station. The devils of this station are golden machines that glow like angels and far outclass the poltergeists.

Encounters (1d4)

  1. Roulette: At the center of the station is a giant roulette wheel. One must hop up high to spin the wheel. There are seemingly no payouts, only draws or losses, and the losses mean longer sentences and worse reincarnations. The devil dealer offers the party a free spin, but makes no mention of the stakes and is dodgy if asked. The only way to win is not to play (one party member may divest 1 karma).
  2. Snake Oil: A pale, elderly poltergeist with a mantra script over his face offers to sell the party snake oil. He claims it will make the trains arrive faster and grant safe travels. He is not lying, but really he’s just trying to keep the party engaged as he drains their vitality over the course of the conversation.
  3. Hopscotch: In order to get to their train, the party must cross a hopscotch. However, the better they perform and the further they get, the longer the hopscotch track gets. They must figure out to play the game, but play it intentionally poorly.
  4. Cross the Platform: The party’s train is on the other side of the tracks. Trains frequently and unpredictably pass the station on this line. Most who try to cross get hit. The party sees a frog poltergeist hop down on the tracks to cross from below.

Long Island Homesteaders Station:

The station is home to the Long Island Homesteaders, an American Football-themed entertainment show. The performer-athletes are albino bull devils who demand absolute engagement from the audience. The other team is the New Jersey Commuters, a team of ashen treant devils. The performance is well-executed, but not especially exciting, like a mediocre minor league football game with gimmick rules to make up for sub-par or past their prime athletes.

Encounters (1d4)

  1. Cheer louder!: A devil usher approaches the party, demanding that they watch the show and cheer vigorously.
  2. Where’s my mommy?: A gang of creepy poltergeist children grab the PCs hands, legs, back of shirt, etc., with a supernaturally strong grip. They repeatedly ask the PCs “where’s my mommy?” while softly whimpering and crying. More and more grab on, piling onto the PCs and burying them.
  3. SideShow Hustle: There is a headless poltergeist in the corner singing beautifully, but nobody is listening. The devil ushers aren’t even harassing them, like they’re invisible.
  4. Toxic Fandom: A poltergeist dressed as a Homesteader and a poltergeist dressed as a Commuter are screaming at each other, and it looks like a riot will break out across the station at any moment.

This would make a really fun zine! :smiley: The encounters are all really creative and weird and fun!

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Thank you! I have no artistic skills or sensibilities for layout or any of that, which has always been the largest obstacle for me with publishing. I plan on submitting the actual game of Maximum Recursion Depth, or Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Stop Playing to the eclectic bastionjam, but as-is it’s looking like it’ll be more of an “aschan” edition because I just don’t think I’m going to have the time or motivation to make it look like a professional product. Ideally I would like to make a full-fledged zine type of thing out of this or one of my other settings someday, but I just don’t have the aptitude for it and would probably need to find collaborators or commission a lot of work or something like that, which would probably require a kickstarter or something, which I’m not opposed to, but also don’t know if there’d be enough interest to justify the work :/.

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It went extremely well! So much so that the group actually wants to keep going with this game! The players really liked the metro-as-a-dungeon idea and the way it kept things moving along and constantly encountering new things.

I’m not sure to what extent I want to lean into this as a core feature of the setting, vs. treating it as a one-off and doing something different next time. It worked so well that it seems worth doing again, but maybe it’s better if it’s infrequent.

Given that the campaign I’m running takes place in New York City it could work as a core feature, but my intention was for this setting to support campaigns at any location, and it wouldn’t make as much sense to have only metro dungeons in a campaign or adventure that takes place in the suburbs.


Also the “Crying Hay” ended up turning into Best NPC. They rescued him and made a cloth outfit for him so he could take a humanoid form, and he become Hay Boy. Hay Boy was a Buddhist Monk in his previous life and apparently has been trapped in the cyborg snake train in the wrong hell for hundreds of years. They get his cellphone number, and then later when they all had to do their reincarnation rituals to avoid dying by head-on collision with a cyborg snake train, they get back several hours later and call him and by then he’s somehow acquired a sniper rifle and befriended Jack Rat. Jack Rat was supposed to be an obvious slimeball but they loved naive but badass Hay Boy so much that they trusted Jack Rat implicitly and liked him too, only for him to literally stab them in the back when they faced off against the Ashura Afterbirth of the Broken Machine Dragon at the climax of the session. Hay Boy felt so guilty but they loved Hay Boy so much that they immediately forgave him, it was delightful.