Let’s assume that you are alone on a very small island and that you have to fight a swarm of ants.
They’re unusually aggressive beasts and are very intent on crawling up your legs and nibbling on the tasty fruit that you hold in your hands. Running away isn’t an option, as the island is too small. So what remains then, is to fight.
But how do you fight ten-thousand ants at once in a limited space? Even the largest man would be swarmed by them. Even with his massive arms and legs, he could only ever squish a comparatively small amount of them. But the tide of ants would just keep coming despite his best efforts and he would soon be swallowed whole.
Dungeons face this very problem, but with people.
In each of the four central cities, there is one core dungeon at its heart. These dungeons can expect thousands of intruders every single day in a non-stop flow. It is as if our island, from the metaphor before, wasn’t an island, but rather, an ant-hill in the middle of the ocean. Even the most powerful dungeon would have difficulty fighting five thousand adventurers in one room at the same time. There is simply too much to target and too much to watch out for.
Instead, they have solved this dilemma with incredible elegance and with a solution that also benefits us greatly as adventurers as well.
Low-level dungeons are always a consistent space. Floor one is floor one and you and I can walk into it together from outside and then shake hands when we get through the door. Floor two, floor three, all the same. It’s as if we were anywhere else in the world and in a dungeon, this could unfortunately mean that we would fight over the scarce resources there.
High-level dungeons, however, employ 'instancing'. Instancing is still a field of research with many questions open and very few answers so far. We simply do not know how it is that a dungeon can field such powerful, world-altering magic.
What is instancing, you ask?
Imagine our metaphor from before. Imagine if our man could simply carve his foot through the sand and let in the tides to create small channels of sea-water.
Now, the ants, being funneled, can only attack him in small groups and he can, with much more rationale and overview, combat the encroachers.
An instanced dungeon is separated by party-space. This means that adventuring party ‘A’ and adventuring party ‘B’ could enter the dungeon at the same time and both would be on floor one, but they would be on their own version of floor one and be unable to see, or aid, the other group.
But, it also means that everyone gets their own slice of the pie.
It is true, organic dimensional magic. Dungeons truly are incredible places.
~ Excerpt from Barnatus Barnacious’ Big Book of Dungeons
The half-breed dark-elf holds his shield up, taking slow, steady steps into the dungeon. Water splashes everywhere all around them as they enter into a mist-filled chamber. An ornate pool of water sits below. In the center of it are large statues.
“Room damage,” says a voice from behind him. The necromancer.
The shieldswain looks at the orcish necromancer and lifts his hand.
“It looks like it really is holy specialized,” says the monk. “Home. Are you seeing this?” she asks, tapping against her crystal.
It vibrates twice. She lifts a hand, pointing at the wading pool below them. “Hit the water.”
The geomancer moves into position, opting to simply vaporize the area before they step down into it.
Safety comes first, after all.
Isaiah sighs, returning to its vision. “These ones are more cautious than the last.”
Black lifts a hand. “I suppose maybe we shouldn’t have buried them in the graveyard?” it asks. "The first group. They found the journal, so they might be mad."
Isaiah still hasn’t had a chance to decipher Black’s gender, but this isn’t the time. “No. We bury the dead,” says Isaiah. “All of them.” It thinks for a second, looking at the uthra.
It is clear that they need to do something. If they don’t intervene, the second inspection team will very likely power their way through the dungeon by just destroying the rooms from afar before even entering them. Isaiah rubs its chin in an old mannerism from its human life. Then, a moment later, it finds a smile coming to its face.
“- There was something that we learned from the first team,” says Isaiah, unfolding its wings and hovering up into the air. “Let us show these new intruders that those deaths were not in vain.”
“Weren’t they though?” asks Red, shrugging.
Isaiah taps its head. “Not for us.”
It gives the uthra their instructions and then it flies up into the sky, as high into the air as it can go.
Walundra exhales, leaning in towards the magical projection on the scryer's crystal. A single one of these set-ups cost more than he’s made in his entire life. The man leans in as close as he dares, but not close enough that a drop of his beading sweat could fall on it.
He looks over towards another of the five rows of two crystals, towards the shieldswain’s. Him and the other officers watch as the geomancer of the team boils the water of the first floor, killing off a slime, before then crumbling the golems in the center of the space before they can activate.
He sighs in relief. All clear. “Proceed,” he orders.
The scryer sends an impulse of magical energy through the crystal and it vibrates on the other end, on the head of the team-leader, the monk.
“It’s interesting that it’s a holy specialized dungeon,” says a voice to the side. Another officer. Several of the junior officers have gathered here to sit on the side and participate. “Isn’t it worth keeping around for the sake of novelty?” The other officers murmur in vague agreement. “The magical academy and the church will riot when they learn about it and that we destroyed it instead of containing it.”
“You might be right,” says another officer, looking back at the crystal. “It’s a high-communication core with a rare element and design. It seems almost cooperative, doesn't it? It’s a shame to des-”
There is a loud crashing, the table with all of the scrying crystals rattles.
Everyone turns to look at Walundra, whose fists hit against its surface. “It killed team one! We’re getting rid of it!” he barks.
The other officers look at each other uncertainly, but say nothing else. Walundra is the ranking man here and his career is on the line if he doesn’t set this mistake right and have everything written into the books in a way fitting to his needs. He doesn’t care about team one. But them being dead falls fully on his shoulders.
— A dangerous situation for all of them.
The room is quiet and he turns back to watch the crystal, right in time as it simply goes dark.
“…Why is it dark?” he asks, looking at the two crystals that show the shield-swain's view from front and back. “What happened?!” he barks, grabbing a scryer by his collar.
“I don’t know, sir!” exclaims the terrified scryer. Walundra pushes him back, his chair falling over backwards with the man in it as he turns to the crystals. “Report!”
“- GET IT OFF HIM! GET IT OFF HIM!” she screams, as the half-breed man writhes around in the pool of magically boiled, ankle-high water, splashing around in a pool full of rubble and rocks. Their boots are temperature resistant, just for exactly situations like this. But it’s obviously no good if you fall down into the boiling water.
A slime had been dropped on his head from above, from the floor above. “What the fuck?!” Dungeons can’t do that, can they? She supposes they can. Dungeons usually have their floors below you, but if the dungeon was a tower, meaning the next floors were above oneself, then…
The man's fingers, red and blistered from the heat of the water and the acid of the slime, claw against his dissolving face. His muffled, animal voice hardly leaves the blue, gooey bubble that is tightly wrapped around his head. His skin peels away and his teeth dissolve, crumbling apart as the slime leaks down through his mouth as he tries to scream in agony.
She looks up, feeling another shadow looming over her head.
Vivid lights fly around the high ceiling far above their heads, dancing around the bridge just above. Hanging below the colorful orbs are more slimes, all from the floor above them, the bridge.
They let go. The acidic monsters drop down from above, hurtling towards them.
“SLIMES!” she yells and the group scatters into fighting formation. She pulls on the tank’s leg, to pull him back. But as she does, his head comes off at the neck, his spine having been eaten through by the acidic monster.
She tsks, dropping him back down.
“Did… did he die?” asks a nervous officer, looking around the room. “Did a level seventy just get eaten by a slime?”
The room is quiet.
“What rank is a slime? 'F', right?” asks his neighbor.
“…That doesn’t make any sense, does it?” asks another voice. “He should have taken barely any damage, right?” He rubs his mustache. “Hell, at seventy, he could have eaten it himself. They’re all in full enchanted equipment, aren’t they?”
“Top of the line,” replies another man.
“- Except for helmets,” throws in a brave voice.
Everyone looks at him. The room is quiet. He blinks. “…I’m just saying, instead of circlets, we could have put the scrying crystals into…” Feeling all of the eyes in the room on himself, he lowers himself down, making himself smaller in his chair. “…helmets… — never mind.”
Walundra can feel his blood boiling. “- What the hell is this?!”
“It seems we’ve made a mistake,” says another officer. “We’re applying vertical dungeon tactics to a reverse vertical dungeon,” explains the man, as if it were obvious.
“GUARDS!” yells Walundra, turning his head to the side. He points at the last man to speak. “Escort him out of here!”
The officer gulps and the others fall silent.
The fight is over.
Once they had gotten their footing, the slimes were basically evaporated in an instant.
The four of them recollect and get ready to move to floor two.
The necromancer looks down at the corpse of the half-breed, who hardly died a warrior’s death. It’s a shame. It was nice to have a quiet person around in the group.
There are hundreds of people to take his place and in the meantime, he can continue to be quiet.
The orc bends down, holding a hand against the dead man's chest and a soft, black vapor hisses as it pushes out of his thick, green fingers. The headless body shakes, rattling as if it were having a spasm. Hot water splashes everywhere and blood leaks out of the odd, flat stump atop the corpse.
The headless body stops spasming and then, it slowly sits upright as if nothing had ever happened. He rises to his feet and then so does the reanimated corpse of the shieldswain. It picks up its shield and follows after him, leaving the few flaps of skin that remains of its head behind as they move through the wading pool to the first staircase up.
The necromancer narrows his eyes in annoyance. This place is going to be a pain in his ass. He can feel it.
The freshly reanimated corpse of the shieldswain falls apart, splashing back into the water gracelessly, as some powerful magical effect removes the spell of undeath. The undead had only managed to take a few steps.
“Leave it,” says the team-leader, the monk. He looks at her and nods and the four of them head up to the bridge, leaving the corpse laying down in the pool of water. This time, they tread forward with much more caution than before.