When powerful rulers get carried away with grandiose construction projects, their dungeons and fortifications can overrun the whole world. A Bunker World, perhaps. Let’s take an example from real history to see what that looks like.
A Bunker for Every Citizen!
In many typical fantasy game settings, foolhardy kings and lords keep building conventional castles and towers. Traditional fortifications hardly seem appropriate when every three-penny wizard can toss lightning and melt rock. And what’s the point of high walls when armies have access to countless types of beasts that can fly over them? The uselessness of such structures has been debated for as long as I can remember.
One simple answer is human nature. Unwise people often end up in surprising positions of power. And sometimes, they manage to spend ludicrous amounts of money on outdated and doomed weapons or fortifications.
Perhaps no project was more insane than the bunkerisation of the People’s Republic of Albania during the Cold War.
Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxha earned his bragging rights during World War II by leading a guerilla movement against his country’s Italian occupiers. Albania was the only country in Europe to toss out its invaders without the aid of foreign troops. A proud Stalinist, Hoxha began the Cold War period as a staunch supporter of the Communist bloc.
But relations soured between Albania and the outside world (including other Communist countries). After Stalin’s death, Hoxha felt Soviet leaders were getting too soft. Albania sided with China against the Soviet Union when relations broke down between the two Communist giants. And Hoxha grew paranoid toward his enemies in nearby Yugoslavia as well. Hoxha withdrew Albania from the military alliance of the Warsaw Pact after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the tiny country’s isolation only deepened after that. Hoxha could see enemies all around him.
Blueprints for a Bunker World
Hoxha wanted the people of Albania to resist a possible invasion from his many enemies just as his men had during the world war. But while the guerillas had holed up in mountain hideouts, the dictator wanted to turn his whole nation into a defensive structure: cities, lowlands, beaches, everything. The landscape would bristle with fortifications, an outward projection of his own fears.
They built bunkers. Lots of bunkers.
Albania was never a large or wealthy country. The cost of building hundreds of thousands of bunkers – perhaps as many as one for every four citizens – was an immense burden. It didn’t help that Hoxha broke with China in the 1970s, too, leaving it with no Communist allies and no external economic aid.
Bunker construction finally petered out after Hoxha’s death in 1985. As many as 750,000 absurdly useless bunkers can be found sprouting from the most unlikely (and un-strategic) locations today. Some have been turned into shops or homes. Others have been painted over with graffiti. Young lovers use them for the occasional secret rendezvous.
Now You’re Thinking With Bunkers
So let’s get really big-scale with future dungeons and bunker complexes in our RPG settings. Science fiction and fantasy fortifications like the Walls of Ba Sing Se or the Walled Districts of Attack on Titan don’t seem so far-fetched now. While my favourite justification for a fantasy dungeon comes from Earthdawn, we can see that the simple obsessions and paranoias of mortal dictators can lead to some pretty amazing levels of construction, too.
Albania is a Bunker Country. Now imagine a Bunker World, reshaped by the whims of a dictator whose defining war was fought in tunnels and bunkers. A planet crisscrossed with defenses of his dimly-glimpsed youth.
Or take it one step further, and consider an interplanetary empire conquered by some turn of fate, like in the case of Paul Muad-Dib in Dune. If this ruler came from simple origins, in his madness he might still resort to old-fashioned fortifications, especially if he won his empire by incredibly unlikely means like Paul did. Picture entire worlds turned into dungeon networks, covered with tunnels and bunkers, in preparation for invasion from the next galaxy over. Or from some extraplanar enemy.
Bunker Galaxy. Bunker Plane of Existence. Now you’re thinking with bunkers!
You could make your own post-apocalyptic or fantasy built upon the backstory of a fortification-mad empire, complete with entire societies and ecosystems nestled into the ruins of bunker complexes. But I personally see Bunker World showing up not as the main backbone of a game, but rather as a setting to visit in a side-quest in a plane-hopping game like The Strange, Dungeons & Dragons’ Planescape, or perhaps Dungeon World’s phantasmagorical Planarch Codex.
I say old chap, I really didn’t like that Punji Stake World, and this Bunker World isn’t much better. Let’s hope this next portal takes us somewhere less dreary… Oh no, it can’t be! It’s an Indiana Jones Rolling Boulder Trap World!
Next time in Future Dungeons: How do you tell foolish adventurers not to stray into your dungeon for the next 10,000 years?