Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Real Life "Dungeon"

Last week I happened to take a trip to an old lead mine an hour south of St. Louis. I've been in a few natural tourist caverns and used them for D&D inspiration, but the mine was a whole different ballgame. I would encourage any midwestern DMs to find the time to take a trip to the Bonne Terre Mine. At least take the walking tour. If you're planning on running any adventures involving aboleths, kuo-toa or other underground aquatic horrors, take the boat tour (which includes the walking tour). Picture a giant aquatic monstrosity bursting out of the waters at the bottom of this deep, dark, dank pit and get a feeling for just how doomed you'd be.

This was the closest thing I've ever seen to a standard D&D dungeon. Granted, there were no 10' x 10' rooms with red dragons in them, but what surprised me was the opposite extreme. All the rooms were huge, and there were no natural caverns. Everything had been dug out over nearly a century by men, mules and machines. The tour guide said this was a "room and pillar" style mine dug completely from solid rock. It was astounding how much space had been carved out. Any dragon would have felt right at home in this place. It even had distinct levels (five of 'em). They have a slide show. The second image will give you a sense of the scale.

According to the guides, the mine extends out over about a 3 mile by 3 mile area. Suddenly the huge cities of the D&D underdark don't seem so far fetched. And the whole structure of the place, with gigantic stone pillars holding up the ceilings of these gargantuan rooms, reminded me of the mines of Moria in the Fellowship of the Ring movie. I'd always thought that place looked way too big to be true, but there I was standing somewhere that looked awfully similar.

Highly recommended as a field trip. Take your whole group and let them get a feel for crawling the underdark in real life. If you and/or your group are exceedingly crazy, you can sign up to go scuba diving in the mine.

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