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D&D 5E How do you make sewer dungeons believable?

Fauchard1520

Explorer
This is a silly setting problem to have, but it's recently come up in my megadungeon game. Or more specifically, in the small town beside the megadugenon. How do you make sewer dungeons believable?

To the best of my knowledge, medieval sewers were little more than open air ditches. Rome's Cloaca Maxima is a good model, but it's the sewage system of a world capital. I doubt that my little dungeon-adjacent village could justify such an engineering project. So when you're in a village setting rather than a major city, how do you justify sewer dungeons? Or are you better off inventing some other kind of subterranean labyrinth and saving yourself the verisimilitude hassle?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
 

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Undrave

Hero
This is a silly setting problem to have, but it's recently come up in my megadungeon game. Or more specifically, in the small town beside the megadugenon. How do you make sewer dungeons believable?

To the best of my knowledge, medieval sewers were little more than open air ditches. Rome's Cloaca Maxima is a good model, but it's the sewage system of a world capital. I doubt that my little dungeon-adjacent village could justify such an engineering project. So when you're in a village setting rather than a major city, how do you justify sewer dungeons? Or are you better off inventing some other kind of subterranean labyrinth and saving yourself the verisimilitude hassle?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

Maybe the sewers were there first? They are the ruins of a bigger city that used to sit where the tiny village is (probably connected to the Mega Dungeon), and the people just connect to them haphazardly because there's always a stream of water going through and they don't even know where all the tunnels go?
 

Eltab

Is this a moon, or is it a space station?
The area that is today a village used to be the rich section of town, hence the sewers. Centuries of warfare plague forestfire decay migrations what-have-you leaves a nice plot of unclaimed land where new houses can be built. Somebody finds a sewer tap and figures out what it is for. The village VIPs build their houses over other sewer taps.
There are a few more taps to be located. And they just located an exit big enough for people (and monsters) to get in.
 


Or a moderately capable wizard used to live in the village and spent a few months of magic to make a sewer system that would server the future growth of his home town and keep the village clean?

But actually, I wouldn't do a sewer dungeon in a small town. Maybe more like a system of caves or such, but not a proper engineered sewer.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Some cities have a significant amount of catacombs or actual mining beneath the city. Some cities such as Naples Italy are built on top of a type of stone that is quite useful for building so they've created large caverns underneath the city.

I justified "dungeons*" underneath one of my cities in such a way, some of the caverns have been long forgotten, in other cases sewers will "break through" to some of those forgotten caverns.

*Not that I do straight dungeon crawls very often, more lairs for bandits or monsters to hide in.
 

aco175

Legend
If it is a small town, I may have the town well hide catacombs that contain something. It is an old trick, but players like it. I tend to throw in a catacomb with a few undead and maybe a secret passage to someplace. Most townsfolk would know about something unless a recent event like a earthquake or floods opened up something and the water stopped.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
If you want believable then Outside of major cities you don’t have them.
that said the oldest parts of the Sewers of Paris dates to 1370. Most sewerage was just a channel in the street pouring into a natural creek or stream. Remember too that solid waste was kept in cesspits and then dug up for use as fertiliser and later saltpetre (especially when gunpowder was discovered)

The channels/streams were eventually covered over to keep the smell contained.

so generally small cramped unhygienic, prone to flooding and discharging to a natural bog outside of the town
 
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I have a home base that is set in a fairly new settlement with extensive sewers. The "sewers" are, of course, the remnants of an earlier civilisation, which the current inhabitants have just started repurpose to dump their sewage in. It works, and it has precedent (The roman sewers and other pieces of infrastructure were extensively used in the middle ages. There wasn't really new sewers built until the 19th century).
 



There are natural pockets and caves under the town. People have excavated enough to have their sewage run into it.

The beings who live below are tired having crap thrown down on them from above and keep attacking the village.

Or

There is a gate to the elemental plane of earth/water. People throw their garbage in it.
 


MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
There is a website dedicated to the history of sewers: The History of Sanitary Sewers

Sewers were as much about controlling water as they were about waste. Even small towns are concerned about avoiding flooding, redirecting water to fields, and so forth.

In the aforementioned website, there is an article titled "Tracking down the roots of our sanitary sewers".

Waste and even water can be a bigger challenge in large urban areas, so certainly it is easier to find examples in Babylon, Rome, etc. But I don't think the Orkney Islands had huge populations thousands of years ago when they built their systems:

The Orkney Islands are the location of excavations that show drainage systems dating as early as 3000 BCE. Lavatory-like plumbing systems were fitted into recesses in the walls of homes, with drained outlets, and certain liquid wastes were drained to area(s) either under or outside of buildings/homes.
British Isles (England, Scotland, Ireland, Orkney Islands) | The History of Sanitary Sewers

What's amazing to me is how recognizable much of our plumbing today would be to those who build drainage/sewage systems thousands of years ago. Materials are different, principles the same. "Many of the drains from 2000 BCE are still in beneficial service today on Crete." "The Royal Palace at Knossos had a latrine on the ground floor with a rooftop “overhead” water reservoir (which collected rainwater): the first flush toilet!? The toilet consisted of a wooden seat, earthenware “pan,” and the rooftop reservoir as a source of water." Copper pipes were used in aristocratic homes in Egypt and Palestine as early as 2000 BCE. Let pipes were used in Greece and Rome and would carry waste out of the city to fertilize fields. There is a 900-year-old sewer in Guanzhou China still in use serving 300,000 people that still is able to handle heavy rains without backing up.

In Europe, things back-tracked after the Romans left. It is quite amazing how long the major cities of Europe took to reach the level of sanitation than existed in Rome, Greece, Egypt, Mohenjo-Daro had thousands of years earlier. But fantasy D&D need not hew to historical accuracy. It is actually easier to picture D&D sewers by referencing ancient and non-European civilizations than anything in Europe during the medieval period.

If your town is not to far from a major city, perhaps the sewer beneath it is part of public works to take waste and greywater out the city and into the country to be used in fields. Or maybe there are wealthy aristocrats who had sewers built in the town. Or maybe with the help of magic, the public works are more practical in smaller towns than they were in much of the real world until the industrial age.
 

Undrave

Hero
If your town is not to far from a major city, perhaps the sewer beneath it is part of public works to take waste and greywater out the city and into the country to be used in fields. Or maybe there are wealthy aristocrats who had sewers built in the town. Or maybe with the help of magic, the public works are more practical in smaller towns than they were in much of the real world until the industrial age.
One Sorcerer/Druid/Hedge Wizard with the Mold Earth cantrip can just dig up whole irrigation systems without breaking a sweat!
 


Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
This is a silly setting problem to have, but it's recently come up in my megadungeon game. Or more specifically, in the small town beside the megadugenon. How do you make sewer dungeons believable?

To the best of my knowledge, medieval sewers were little more than open air ditches. Rome's Cloaca Maxima is a good model, but it's the sewage system of a world capital. I doubt that my little dungeon-adjacent village could justify such an engineering project. So when you're in a village setting rather than a major city, how do you justify sewer dungeons? Or are you better off inventing some other kind of subterranean labyrinth and saving yourself the verisimilitude hassle?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
Maybe there are natural caverns under the town. The "powers that be" only had to dig a few sink holes, in and there, to let the water drain. If this is new work it could have angered the "residents" of the cave or revealed a nest of spies, a small thief guild or an ancient treasure...
 
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You know, when I first glanced at the thread title I thought it read:

How do you make sewer dragons believable?​


And thought to myself, "What is sewer dragon? Some cross between a dragon and a crocodile or something?" ;)
Reminds me of the urban legend of Giant Alligators in the NYC sewer system from people flushing them down the toilet.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Hmm, kind of inspired to make a new song for my hope-to-play bard

Poo the magic dragon, lived under the city
And frolicked in the sewers there where all the people pee
Little were-rat Smelly loved that stinky Poo
And brought him cats and dead dogs and other eating stuff oh

Poo the magic dragon, lived under the city
And frolicked in the sewers there where all the people pee
Poo the magic dragon, lived under the city
And frolicked in the sewers there where all the people pee
...

Hmm. I'll have to work on a few more verses. :unsure:
 

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