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In this context, I will define a Roguelike RPG world to be a world where a lone adventurer fights scores of monsters who drop magical weapons, armor and artifacts that the adventurer may pick up, use, and sell. The specific games I am thinking about are games like Nethack, Sword of Fargoal, Dungeons of Dredmor, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, and some others that have deep dungeon diving and little territory above ground.

Consider these points.
Usually there is only one person in the whole world who travels around fighting monsters. These monsters may drop items that sometimes do not make sense in the context, either due to the items size or the monsters typical eating habits. An example would be a bat dropping an Iron Sword or a Wizard dropping a suit of Iron Armor.

All the other characters in this world just stay in the relative safety of their town or towns. Somehow they are able to survive in an economy based entirely on the loots of the lone adventurer.

There is an infinite amount of loot in the world. Typically the deeper you go underground, the more likely the magically enhanced loot will be dropped by the monsters. Those monsters also get tougher and more fantastical the deeper underground you go.

There are other aspects of Roguelike worlds that could be considered, but I will leave them for another question.


I know this might be a silly question, but I am hoping that the answers will be interesting or imaginative. There are so many Roguelike RPGs these days that I think the depth of their thematic potential is worth considering.

Is there any plausible explanation, whether fantastical or scientific, that could describe how a Roguelike RPG world could exist?

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The basic assumption of such games is that the hero can visit only the locations interresting for them. The rest of the world with working economy and people living their ordinary lives is not important, so this is not on the map. This doesn't have to mean that it doesn't exist.

Perhaps there are other ways, but I understand it as something like Mythago Wood, where some magic overrules ordinary laws of physics. Some dark, mysterious power lies in the bottom of the dungeon; perhaps another plane of existence connected to ordinary reality, making the border (dungeon and perhaps some area around it) twisted. The monsters could be solid, physical, and than everything would be as DonyorM wrote.

Or the other world might be "spiritual", and they appear physical due to the contact with solid reality in the area of "mixed physics". The deeper in the dungeon, everything is closer to the essence of the other plane, allowing the monsters to "project" their true being into more potent forms. As the hero goes down dungeon levels and up character levels, they become more and more imbued with the essence of this strange world, and thus more capable of hurting the monsters. They become more and more "solid" for the inhabitants of the other plane, who otherwise regard us as soft "spirits". SO the hero doesn't even notice that the world ressembles the "ordinary world" less and less and that it is less and less solid to ordinary world's standards. As they return, they return back to their normal nature, getting more real - again, no reason to notice it.

The loot is nothing the monsters carry with them. A monster can have a giant maul and drop just few coins, or a swarm of insects can drop halberd - there is no or very vague connection. So the weapons the monsters use are just part of their "body", which vanishes when it is destroyed and they cease to exist, or return to get a new "body" somewhere. The loot is something given by whoever or whatever enforces laws of the strange reality of the other plane - who defeats another being, gets some reward, that's simply how that world work. These rewards belong to their new owner, and get imbued to ordinary reality as they leave the depths of the dungeon (becoming useful for selling to ordinary merchant, who will use them in ordinary economy).

My world is "ordinary fantasy", but I have already created few dungeons acting almost like this (well, upper levels only, and halberds didn't fall from dead animals) in my RPG campaign in it, and everything was fine and even the most inquisitive players were happy.

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Anything is possible.

First, let's start with the economy. Scientifically, I doubt a whole world economy could be sustained on one "lone-adventurer." But it's unlikely that any of these worlds are actually like that. Each town is likely self-sufficient. They probably have their own economy, with blacksmiths, farmers, and merchants.

Now as for loot and monsters, oversized loot is a little difficult scientifically, but under fantasy rules, there are possibilities. For example, monsters are magic. They can carry an infinite number of things in a hidden "flap" or pocket. Whoever created them gave them this power. As for the infinite loot, it's just that the game takes place after the world has fallen too monsters. Countless towns have been destroyed and looted. In the space of one game, no one can collect all the loot.

Whatever created the monsters is underground. So from underground the monsters come. The monsters on the surface were the first monsters created, the experiments. They moved to the overground when they were driven out by the new monsters. The newer monsters are stronger, but stick closer to their creator, underground.

So there you go, Rogue-like RPGs possible in a nutshell. :)

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Personally, I've always thought of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup as an allegory for the special purgatory of an obsessed being whose personality became so fragmented that he endlessly sent pieces of himself into the depths of a horrific death trap only to pursue some fabled thing for no rational reason. In his many incarnations, he acted out a fantasy of slaughtering everything around him while subsisting on their raw flesh, often even finding his death at the hands of his own specters.

Ultimately, the Roguelike story is a horror story about the madness of obsession and, like all good horror, derives its impact from the psyche of the one who consumes it and, therein, becomes consumed. In such a sense, Roguelikes are implausible only in their packaging; once unwrapped by the player in playing, their reality is made manifest. Have 'Fun'.

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Basically, NO! . . . unless many things were changed.

Usually there is only one person in the whole world who travels around fighting monsters.

Maybe the player almost never runs into any such person, but one of the more interesting features of Nethack and others is that you can encounter the bodies and/or ghosts of your (or on a shared computer, others') previous characters. Also, although you didn't list it specifically, in Dwarf Fortress you can (with difficulty) retire and then rejoin your characters to form a group of adventurers. Also the background text. character class descriptions, hall of fame, and the shopkeepers etc all acknowledge the existence of adventurers as a class, even if during gameplay, there are pretty much not multiple adventurers running around at the same time, and certainly not wiping out the dungeon ahead of you.

That being said, some aspects of this I feel are reasonable, and others not. Certainly adventurers may be rare... they probably would be. And, given what happens to the world when an adventurer goes out and doesn't get killed right away, there HAS to be only a very rare number of such adventurers, or the world would have been purged of monsters long ago.

Which leads to one of the most implausible things to me, which is simply Dungeons & Dragons-style hierarchical character improvement power levels. The conceit started with that game and copied by huge numbers of games, is that trained human warriors start out slightly better than minor opponents, but hopeless against medium monsters, and that by killing a dozen or a few dozen monsters (and healing amazingly quickly between each battle) they can become ever more powerful on a very steep power curve until eventually a hero is about as powerful as Superman, but the world is full of still more super-monsters, etc etc. Which is basically ridiculously implausible and unsustainable, at least in the way it is typically implemented in such games. However, if those mechanics (which involve killing hundreds of foes and somehow gaining a superhuman ability to sustain injury) were replaced by something involving skill and intelligence (where characters learn how to survive by being smart and avoiding combat and injury almost always), there might be some hope for an actual world with highly-experienced adventurers not requiring superhuman powers nor annihilation of hundreds or thousands of victims per hero.

These monsters may drop items that sometimes do not make sense in the context, either due to the items size or the monsters typical eating habits. An example would be a bat dropping an Iron Sword or a Wizard dropping a suit of Iron Armor.

This is a good point but is less sloppily done in Roguelikes than it is in their action derivatives such as Diablo, Dungeon Siege, Torchlight et cetera, in which animals drop human equipment. I think the best explanation here is that usually this should not be taken to mean that the handless unclothed monster actually had a suit of armor or whatever, but that such loot were nearby to where they were encountered, and is only findable after the monster is slain... possibly again items lost by victims of the monster. However I feel this is a concession to sloppy game implementation. Often in Roguelikes the loot is just lying on the floor near a monster, which makes more sense.

As for world plausibility, it would be realistic if the treasure found were all remains discarded and scattered from previous adventurers or original inhabitants of magical strongholds... but the way these and other games tend to have so much treasure lying randomly everywhere... no, that seems almost impossible unless a dragon hoard, battlefield aftermath AND a wizard's guild storehouse were distributed by a few years' scattering by the Bat monster from Atari 2600 Adventure. The weapons and tools are far more plausible than consumable magic items such as potions and scrolls. To see what would be plausible, play through a dungeon and then wander back the way you came, looking at what you left behind. Of course, there would also be more stuff left behind if the game didn't allow the player to carry an implausible amount of junk with them.

All the other characters in this world just stay in the relative safety of their town or towns.

That sounds extremely plausible to me, and is what most people do on earth all the time, and especially is what most people did during the corresponding time period.

Somehow they are able to survive in an economy based entirely on the loots of the lone adventurer.

It never occurred to me that the adventurer was keeping the village alive with his loot - in which game did you see this? It seems clear to me that the villagers in these games get their requirements from non-adventuring activities, and that economy in the modern sense has very little to do with it, let alone the adventurer.

The adventurer in a Roguelike can usually join them by leaving the dungeon or adventure area, at which point they generally get a hall of fame entry saying they retired or whatever instead of that they died.

i.e. In our plausible Roguelike world, they would farm and hunt and fish and craft in safe places that might or might not be shown in the game (which tends to omit or downplay safe places to focus on the adventure).

There is an infinite amount of loot in the world. Typically the deeper you go underground, the more likely the magically enhanced loot will be dropped by the monsters. Those monsters also get tougher and more fantastical the deeper underground you go.

I was about to say that it wasn't really infinite, but then I considered that not only do some Roguelikes have some regenerating Infinite Dungeons (e.g. some places in ADOM) but practically all such games do have randomly generated monsters that appear as the hero wanders around, and they do generally have a chance to drop more loot.

I would say that the thing that is most implausible about that infinite regeneration, is the rate at which it occurs, as well as the general absence of any findable path by which the newcomers could appear. The most plausible way I can think to explain that is they must be entering from passages the player has no access to, or they are being teleported in by dark magic.

It might be seen to make some sense that the more powerful monsters would be lower down and have more valuable loot, especially if it were provided by previous dead adventurers, the better ones making it further down before dying and leaving their gear. However that doesn't help explain why newly-arrived monsters, particularly ones with no way to carry anythings themselves, result in usable equipment such as a suit of armor or magic book when slain.

What WOULD make more sense, sort of, would be: 1) If the better equipment was actually appropriate to and being used by the better monsters. The Death Knight probably does have some interesting weapons and armor, some of which might still be usable after beating him. 2) The reason for this dungeon existing and having monsters might be some wizardly alliance or demon sect or something that intentionally populates and equips the dungeon, putting more common beasts up top to stop intrusion without raising too much attention, while the lower levels are filled with more serious creatures with supplies that they are supposed to use on intruders. However these should be more organized than the random distribution in most Roguelikes, and they should tend to mainly be using that equipment against the intruders, rather than leaving it unused for the intruders to prosper with.

Is there any plausible explanation, whether fantastical or scientific, that could describe how a Roguelike RPG world could exist?

Again, I think the only real way to explain the type of world, would be to change the mechanics as presented in the games. The time scales are all wrong, as are the power scales, the carrying capacity of players, the usual layout and monster/loot distribution, and so on. I think though that you could correct many of those things and still have a world that is fairly similar to many aspects, but be much more self-consistent, sustainable and even almost plausible.

I think one really needs to fix the holes in cause and effect before one could get anywhere. Why are there underground complexes? Some make some sense - there are mines and temples or even underground cities created by magic. That's no so bad. But what's living in there, why, what are they doing, how do they interact with each other, and the villagers survival makes sense - what are a random mix of monsters doing that has them manage to co-exist underground and have enough food and water and air and shelter? There can be good answers to those things, as seen in more thoughtful/realism-oriented RPG published adventures (generally NOT D&D, but some are better than others even there).

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Here's an explanation...

The dungeon is a window into multiple dimensions. If someone enters a room that is empty, there is a chance it will close the door, stopping time until an adventurer in some other dimension reopens the room and tries to kill you for loot.

So in this model, there are no monsters at all...just all the greedy adventurers being trapped for others of their like to discover and kill. Like a Venus Fly Trap for Dungeon Delvers.

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Kind of a razy idea, but maybe the monsters are just "spirits" that need a physical anchor to our reality, and that need to possess a physical object; they seem to favor possessing metallic objects, like coins and metallic weaponry (like, say, an iron sword); when they are slayed by our hero, they revert to the physical form they had before.

Maybe the magic weapons are the remnants of the "spirit" of especially powerful creatures.

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Loot is what they took off the body of the last adventurer to get that far....

...loot gets better as you get deeper as adventurers that get that far have better gear...

...monsters get stronger as they don't want to be bothered by adventurers poking them all the time so stronger ones live as far away from them as possible....and then steadily weaker monsters are pushed out towards the higher risk edges.

A bigger problem is the ecology of the area (how do all these monsters eat for example - each other would be a short term solution) and how the mines/caves/whatever got formed in the first place. Neither of those is easy to explain.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ordinary explanation that loot comes from adventurers have few weak points: 1) the player would likely meet more of them 2) one adventurer usually takes X items but kills Y monsters of similar level, where Y >> X - monsters would have much less loot and 3) so many adventurers to provide loot to stronger monsters would totally depopulate higher levels of the dungeon. $\endgroup$ – Pavel V. Jul 10 '15 at 5:58
  • $\begingroup$ @PavelV. You are making assumptions about the survival rates of adventurers. If most adventurers die in the dungeon (which is certainly true in most roguelikes) then that changes things. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jul 10 '15 at 14:42

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