Dungeons and Instances - The Lair of Sihathleth

Some of my favourite memories of playing MMOs come from the instances we did: whether they be dark dungeons in which we delved too deep, ancient fortresses haunted by the ghosts of the dead, or temples full of crazed cultists.

This part of the game these days has tended to devolve into highly linear speed runs, where people are auto-grouped and teleported directly into the dungeon, where the experience is completed as quickly as possible to grab those points.

From what we have heard so far, the Ashes team is winding back the clock and making these group experiences matter once again: from the fact that there will be no dungeon queuing mechanism, no teleporting to the dungeon and how important community is to Ashes.

What I would like to do is talk a little about Dungeons/Instances in general, what I would like to see and what I hope for and then post a little dungeon idea I have written as an example of my hope for the type of thing we can see in Ashes. This is going to be long, so thanks for anyone who sticks around. If no one does, I had fun writing it anyway.

I use Dungeon and Instance interchangeably, just because I am used to all content being fully instanced but I understand it won’t be in Ashes.


  • Types of Group Content
    For these group dungeons in Ashes I would really like to see a mix of:
    1. Fully instanced
    2. Open access, boss instancing
    3. Fully open access
    Dynamic Instance Generation
    One thing that I think has been sorely neglected in MMOs is the ability to have a dynamically generated instance (Type 1). As long ago as Diablo 2, we were able to randomly generate an entire zone each time players logged in, we need this to be added into MMOs to provide some more dynamism into dungeons, to keep players on their toes and to provide a sense of the unknown and replayability.

    A Living World (even while instanced)
    I would also love to see this group content have a real place and meaning in the world, and for the internal design to make sense and feel organic. My favourite instances have always been those that felt like a true slice of the world (from WoW):
    • Black Rock Depths
    • Dead Mines
    • Sunken Temple
    • Stratholme
    • Scarlet Monastery
    Warhammer Online had some really interesting open access, boss instanced dungeons – the first time I have been exposed to that principle. The one thing common to all instances I have enjoyed is that they were dynamic in some way:
    • non-linear
    • random elements (pathing mobs or extra bosses)
    • optional sections
    • nooks and crannies to explore
    • hidden treasures
    Speed Kills
    One of the greatest laments that I have for the MMO genre now is that speed seems to be the most important aspect of gaming. Instances have to be quick to get that loot or get those points. Dungeons have been reduced to Reward/Hour calculations. This devolution has gone hand-in-hand with the increasing toxicity of the community and we end up with the sorry state of MMOs today.

    The last time I dove back into WoW, I didn’t know where any of the instances were that I was doing, how they fit with the world, or even what to do. There was an intense rush to complete and move on to another one. If you stopped to look around, you were left behind.

    The answer here is not to speed every dungeon up, making it linear and easy enough for a 5 year old to follow. The answer is to generate content of varying levels of time investment, from 20 minutes to an hour plus.

    Connecting the World
    Dungeons need to feel integrated into the world, not separate little chunks that have nothing to do with the wider story or community. I love the idea of having specific crafting stations or NPCs in dungeons (Ala the Dark Iron Forge in WoW). I love the idea of needing to go to these places to do certain things, learn certain things or achieve certain things.

    I know some people will say that forcing people to do specific content is a breach of their human rights, but no one seemed to mind back in the day.

    I would like to see a lot of unique things found in dungeons:
    • Crafting stations
    • NPC Quest Givers
    • Resources
    Now for some controversy, attunements and locks on instances. Back in the day these were very popular, at least with game designers, with a number of games requiring a quest chain or time investment to be able to enter a dungeon.

    This principle was really a double-edged sword. It did in some ways split the playerbase, but it also promoted grouping as people would work together to get attuned so they could then play together some more.

    Having a lock on a dungeon is less problematic as only one person in the group is required to have the key.

    Personally I am fine with a couple of dungeons requiring attunement, as it can really tie a storyline together, but I am equally fine if there are none.

    Keys, however, I quite enjoy. It can be a nice little bit of lore and in Ashes I can see it being a quite useful tool for non-instanced dungeons as you would require a key to get in, but once there it is a free for all.
  • The Lair of Sihathleth

    The Philosophy of Design
    I have tried to incorporate quite a bit of random/dynamic elements to prevent players from being able to sit back and plan an encounter. I want to be able to have to think, and scramble, during these encounters, to make choices that will matter. I want there to be no tank & spank elements, be it boss or trash, and I want players to be constantly moving, switching targets and really on their toes.

    Obviously I don’t know the exact mechanisms behind how the code can provide this dynamism but what I have tried to do is impart the intent.
    I envision it as fully instanced with the first and third corridor sections to be randomly generated for each instance. The mobs that populate these sections would also be randomly generated and path throughout the areas, not standing still. The two boss encounters would be fixed.

    This would be a relatively small instance, taking perhaps 30 minutes. I wouldn’t want to post a longer one as this is already looking like a novel.

    The Setting
    This instance would be set in a more remote locale, deep in a thick, wild wood… The forest closes in about you, the air heavy and still and redolent with the sweet scent of the deep wood. Quiet has descended, the small forest sounds muted and distant, as if echoing from another time. Each footfall seems deadened, as if the very earth itself is absorbing the evidence of your presence.

    Out of the corner of your eye, pale shapes flicker, but each time you turn to catch a glimpse of the maddening movement, you see only the deep shadows cast by the ancient trees, thick trunks covered in the fascinating swirls and arabesques of sallow lichen.

    As you peer into the gloom, something catches your eye, something out of place amidst the twisting, tripping root system branching out from the base of an aged giant. As you approach you try to make sense of the gnarled root and entangling brush to focus on the incongruous detail that drew your attention.

    You bend down, brushing aside the tangled growth, parting the ubiquitous blades of spiked grass to uncover a pallid strand, no thicker than a bowstring. You reach out and trace its length, following the thin cord as it disappears into the earth.

    You see a tiny ridge in the soft soil, curving away from you in a near perfect circle. Grabbing a handful of the nearest brush, you pull, and with surprising ease an entire ring of earth hinges back revealing a burrow descending into darkness. The underside of the earthen door, is covered in thin white webbing, as is the wide tunnel that angles down into the subterranean gloom.

    As you enter, you zone into the instance.
  • The Dungeon

    Part 1 – Entrance
    Corridors are carved through dark soil, covered in an entrancing pattern of criss-crossed webbing. The floor is a mix dirt and roots and as you move up the sides of the tube-like tunnels they become more and more covered in webbing. The burrow is filled with an earthy scent with a cloying trace of rot. A soft blue-white glow emanates from the webbing, barely illuminating the tunnels enough to see.

    The tunnel quickly branches into three and a choice must be made in which direction to proceed. One of these tunnels will terminate, ending in a solid wall of thick webbing. The other two will lead to the first major room and boss encounter – the Wythe Lord.

    Each of these tunnels is populated by Wythes. The number of Wythes in each tunnel is randomly generated with a minimum of two in a tunnel and a maximum of three. These are the base numbers and can be added to depending on the failure of dealing with the Siren Spiders.

    Wythe: Cadaverous humanoids, mere husks, skin stretched taut over corded muscle and bone, pale white in colour like the belly of a dead fish. Their essence is drained from them and they are left in their web cocoon for many days before emerging as the near mindless guardians of the upper tunnels.

    Swift of movement these ghoul-like beings have two main attacks. Every fourth to sixth attack the Wythe will change targets.
    Swipe – (instant) a rapid slice of their long-claws, each successful hit is low base damage but will also apply a poison DoT to the recipient that will last for 10 seconds unless dispelled. This effect can stack up to 3 times.
    Spit – (1 second cast) thick black ichor is spat at a random target, other than the current target. This applies a daze effect, halving movement and doubling cooldown duration until dispelled. Can affect up to two targets if within 3 yards of the recipient. Every third to fifth attack will be a spit instead of a swipe.
    Siren Spider: small spiders the size of a cat, dark and thin of body. They move exceptionally fast and keen a high-pitched wail by rubbing their mandibles together. As soon as they detect an intruder they move deeper into the tunnels, wailing a warning.

    No attacks. They will flee and begin wailing the moment a player is within 20 yards. If they are not stopped/killed within 5 seconds their alarm will attract a further two Wythe to the tunnel. If they make it to the end of the tunnel the Wythe Lord will gain an extra skill and two Wythe will be added to the boss encounter (see below).

    There is one Siren Spider per procedural tunnel. If one alarm is triggered the other will trigger within 5 seconds. This makes it imperative that the group split and progress through the tunnels at the same time. This will lead to some interesting decisions to be made on group composition for the split. The group without a tank will need to make solid use of CC, target swapping and dispels.

    If the group is successful and dispatches both Siren Spiders without raising the alarm, the group can easily progress to the first room of the lair.

    If one Siren Spider raises the alarm and reaches the Wythe Lord, two Wythe are spawned in the room and must be fought during the boss encounter. The Wythe Lord will also gain the Bellow attack.

    If both Siren Spiders raise the alarm, the conditions for a single alarm are met, but the Wythe Lord will Bellow once the second Siren Spider reaches him. This initial Bellow will cause a tunnel collapse, blocking the entrance to the Wythe Lord’s room and spawning 3 ghouls in each tunnel.

    These cave-ins are interactive and players must dig away at the dirt and debris to enter the room and begin the encounter. One player will take 40 seconds to clear the fall. Two players will take 30 seconds, three players 20 and all four will clear in a matter of 10 seconds. The ghouls attack within 5 seconds of the fall occurring.

    Each minute after the fall a Spiderling Swarm will spawn. These are comprised of 6 small spiders that have a single fast attack but do little damage. More of an annoyance, but if not cleaned up the damage will begin to mount.

    Players must decide how many people to devote to clearing the fall. The groups are still split at this stage and will rapidly be overrun unless they can move quickly, CC and get those falls cleared.

    Once a fall is cleared, players are free to enter the boss chamber and work on the fall of the other tunnel and help to clear that as well. Spiderling Swarms will continue to spawn until the boss is engaged.

    Part 2 – Boss Encounter - Wythe Lord
    The Wythe Lord is a huge figure, over ten feet tall and bearing a solid resemblance to an ogre, gaunt and withered, having undergone the same draining process as the other Wythe. The entrances to the room are all much smaller and it begs the question of how this large creature came to be here.

    The roof of the cavernous room is crossed with intertwined roots, making it seem like an underground cathedral to some god of the forest. There is little evidence of webbing in this room, however they are still present and numerous small tunnels lead off into darkness all the way up the walls of the cavern.
    Bellow – (2 second cast) At each 20% health loss, there is a 40% chance the Wythe Lord will Bellow. This is a non-interruptible ability that will cause earthfalls from the ceiling. Each fall will be presaged by a light sprinkle of earth, followed by a large chunk of the ceiling collapsing. Large damage and three second stun effect. Occurrence will be random throughout the room. Ability only present if at least one Siren Spider flees successfully.
    Cleave – (instant) A frontal attack ability that can hit up to 4 targets in a frontal cone. This is the standard attack of the Wythe Lord.
    Pin – (instant) At each 10% health loss, there is a 30% chance the Wythe Lord will pin a player to the ground. The player will be pinned beneath one of the large claw-like feet and be slowly crushed. This pressure will remove 10% of the targets health each second for 10 seconds. Must be healed through. During a Pin, the Wythe Lord will continue to attack players in melee range. Pin will end after 10 seconds, or when no further targets are within melee range.
    Fling Muck – (1.5 second cast) At each 10% health loss, if neither Bellow or Pin are enacted, the Wythe Lord will Fling Muck. The floor of the cavern is littered with filth, rotting carcasses of animals and men, and various other substances too foul to name. The Wythe Lord will rake his hand through this spongy top layer of flooring and fling the accumulated filth at a target outside of melee range. Target will be blinded for 5 seconds and a 10 minute debuff placed upon the target that reduces stats by 10% each minute unless removed.
    Once the Wythe Lord is defeated players must search through the trough that runs around the edge of the room. Within this ditch are the bodies of the victims of the Wythe Lord upon which can be found the loot rewards for the encounter.

    Part 3 – Inner Burrow
    Once the Wythe Lord is defeated the players can continue through the tunnel on the far side of the cavern. This is a single central tunnel but with constant branches that lead to left and right, some angling down, others up, and some branches in the ceiling of the cavern.

    Some of these branches dead end, but many come back upon the main corridor. Each branching corridor is populated by a combination of Bone Spider Swarms, Brood Guardians and Caustic Weavers, with one set in each tunnel and two patrols that roam throughout.

    Groups will be comprised of:
    1. Bone Spider Swarm
    2. Brood Guardian x 2, Caustic Weaver x 1
    3. Brood Guardian x 1, Caustic Weaver x 2
    Bone Spider Swarm – exoskeleton of these spiders is brittle and bone-white. These attack in swarms of between 5 - 8. When these are killed they explode, dealing half of their health in a 5 yard radius. AoE is an ill-advised tactic here. Basic stabbing attack with two front legs, tips of which are shaped to a razor sharp points.

    Brood Guardian – large, heavily armoured spiders, brightly patterned red thorax. These spiders have three main attacks: Stab, Bite, Charge. These bulky spiders are unable to be stunned, charmed or rooted.
    Stab – (instant) basic stabbing attack, ignores armour.
    Charge – (instant) charges a random ranged target, dealing heavy damage and a knockdown. This ability is an aggro reset.
    Bite – (instant) applies a poison DoT to the target that increases in damage each tick – one tick every two seconds with a percentage health loss that increases: 1%, then 2%, then 4%, then 8%, then 16%. Bite will always follow Charge.
    Caustic Weaver – Smaller than the brood guardian, sickly yellow marking on thorax. These spiders have no threat table and will choose targets randomly, skittering quickly between victims.
    Stab – (instant) a fast but weak attack.
    Spray – (1.5 second cast time) Every third to sixth attack the Caustic Weaver will spray acid upon its current target. This heavily corrosive substance deals heavy damage over a short period: 20% health upon application, then 15% two seconds later, then 10% two seconds after that. After an attempt to Spray (be it successful or not) the Caustic Weaver will change targets.
    Throughout the tunnels there are randomly placed webbed bundles hanging from the ceiling. These can be interacted with to break them open. Random chance of letting loose an Abortive Wythe or a lootable corpse – upon which can be found gold, jewellery, trinkets and small weapons such as daggers.

    Abortive Wythe – these unfortunate souls have had their life essence sucked from them and replaced with the nectar of Sihathleth. The transformation into a Wythe has not yet come to completion and these horrors are confused, unformed things. They will lash out at the nearest target and will fixate until dead. Their bodies are soft and malleable as they have not fully desiccated and are susceptible to physical damage.
    Gnaw – (10 second channel – uninterruptable). The target is borne to the ground and pinned beneath the Abortive Wythe and it begins to feed. Medium damage, unmitigated by armour.
    Vomit – (5 second channel – uninterruptable) At the end of the Gnaw, the unformed digestive tract of the Abortive Wythe rejects what it has consumed and a thick brown vomit is spewed back upon the target. Vomit will reduce player health by 15% per second for 5 seconds.
    Dissolve – if the Abortive Wythe is still alive at the end of a Vomit, it will begin to dissolve, the fragile construct unable to endure the internal damage done to its unformed organs. The body will split and internal fluids will erupt upon the unfortunate victim dealing 50% of player health in damage.
    Part 4 - The Lair of Sihathleth
    All corridors lead to a final room in this underground warren. The cavernous space is filled with shadow, the only light source the soft, lambent glow of the chaotic layers of web that crisscross the ceiling and walls of the vast subterranean den. Webbed victims of various size hang from the ceiling, not all are the telltale teardrop humanoid shape, all forest denizens are represented here. These pendant prey cast shadows throughout the great space, swaying and jerking as something immense moves amongst the gloom.

    As the party steps into the room (once they engage the encounter) a colossal shape separates from the murk above, crawling slowly down the wall, each fluid, considered movement heavy with menace. This is a primeval horror, an ancient intelligence piercing the veil of shadow, filling all who witness with an instinctive dread.

    Sihathleth has lived for many an age, woken from her long slumber by the return of the races to Verra. The polished black endoskeleton shines eerily in the soft fluorescence of the cavern and the sharp clicking of her bulbous mandibles echoes throughout the cavern.

    At every 6th to 10th attack one of the special abilities will be triggered.
    Bite – (instant) basic bite attack
    Gaze of Sihathleth – (1 second cast) Sihathleth’s gaze is focused on a single target. The power of her eldritch gaze causes horror to fill the target. They run in a random direction, for 6 seconds.
    Web – (1 second cast) Sihathleth rises up, lifting her body clear of the ground and ejects an explosive stream of web at a ranged target. The force of the web carries the target to the edge of the cavern where the web congeals and adheres, trapping the target. The webbed target will begin to immediately lose health as the toxins in the web work upon them, 5% of the target’s health is lost per second of entrapment. Other players within the group must free the webbed. It takes 4 seconds to destroy the web.
    Ascend the Web – (instant) Sihathleth runs straight at one player trampling them and doing high damage and knocking them down. She continues up the side of the cavern and into the darkness at the peak of the dome, her great black bulk melding with the shadows. When she emerges down the other side of the cavern a Brood Guardian, Caustic Weaver or two Bone Spiders accompany her. This ability is an aggro drop.
    Discharge Miasma – (2 second cast) Sihathleth lowers her body to the ground and expels a roiling mist of foul, black ichor. This pool immediately begins to evaporate creating a thick cloud of poisonous fume. Any player entering this area takes 30% of their health in immediate damage. The fumes cling to the player causing their movement speed to be halved and their cast time doubled until dispelled. The player can also transfer the fumes to any target within 5 yards.
    Around the edges of the cavern are arrayed five clusters of eggs. If these eggs are attacked Sihathleth will immediately switch targets. She will attack this target for 10 seconds and is unable to be taunted during this period. Until the next special attack occurs, Sihathleth will frenzy and deal double damage.

    Upon her death, Sihathleth’s legs drum against the floor in a rapid tattoo, the death rattle of an elder fiend.

    The loot for the encounter is gained by opening the encased victims. There are some cocoons that are higher than can be easily reached from the ground, if there is a class that can climb in the group, then more loot options are available.

    If you’ve got this far, I applaud your commitment and attention span.

    A sincere thanks for reading.
  • Can you please be a DM for a game for me as that is some high quality dungeon building 
  • Bajjer. You have all the right ideas to make a killer dungeon, very good writing i can picture myself there!

    http://aocwiki.net/Main_Page -Comprehensive guide to Ashes of Creation.
    http://imperiumaoc.com/ -Ashes of Creation Guild
  • I love everything about this post. Intrepid should hire you to help design their dungeons
  • This is my favourite post.

    i especially love the Abortive Wythe. The reactions of the players the first time that happened would be priceless.

    I want to play this now *stamps foot*
  • Great post, it's always puzzled me (well not always) why dungeons can't be procedurally generated, would as you say add to the adventure, but also stop "speed runs" and using them as a source of "quick levelling"
  • I would just love to stress that I wish open world dungeons to automatically flag players for PvP.

    Open world dungeon means conflict about bosses and loot between different parties. It will just not work if players are allowed to go green, and you must get corrupted to contest for the boss.
  • Excellent! Just excellent. Makes me want to get back into some Pathfinder. 

    Or play me some Ashes. I would so love to have instances be full of flavor and atmosphere again. If some all can be like this, then I can't wait to throw my money at Intrepid until 2030.
  • ArchivedUserArchivedUser Guest
    edited September 2017
    please hire this man Intrepid!
  • @nagash Thanks a lot. I haven’t DMed for 15 years. While I’m waiting for Ashes I feel like getting back into playing, but just playing not DMing (I spent 6 years building my own world I kind of want to play in others’ now).

    @Zastro & @Jackless Wow. I just tap this stuff out once it forms. I’m just glad anyone liked it.

    And thanks to everyone for reading. Once they pop into my brain I feel the need to get them out, and I may as well do it here. So I’ll drop them whenever I finish. Not for everyone (I know, super long right) but they gotta come out. Working on one in the Sewer that will become available once a node reaches Metropolis stage, and an open one set in a swamp (always loved me an open-air instance).

  • @Bajjer I will happily read every single one you post :)
  • Wow, that was super long but super cool. I agree with everyone else here. More please. 

    You say that you were working on a couple of other ones. I have always loved sewers and the nasties that lurk in them (skaven anyone?) but if you were still going to do another one, I'd love to see that. I know its been a while but I hope you do another one. I agree with Zastro I will read each one.
  • Gothix said:
    I would just love to stress that I wish open world dungeons to automatically flag players for PvP.

    Open world dungeon means conflict about bosses and loot between different parties. It will just not work if players are allowed to go green, and you must get corrupted to contest for the boss.
    I like the concept, you would have to have members of your party that are good at skirmishing and keeping the competing party(s) distracted so your group can deal with the boss. 
  • ArchivedUserArchivedUser Guest
    edited November 2017
    We should have a quest hub or dungeoun hub were the community can submitt ideas for dungeouns and quests thinking of making a discussion on it.  I mean they could have 1000 more cool dungeoun and quests easy.  Works Great in Neverwinter

    Person could submit idea (not for every to see that is) then if it is good enough put it in game.  Be a great way to use cumunity do not know why other games do not.

    We could even have an NPC hub were players submit a character and back round.  Would really be cool if we had a form that asks question like.  Full name, Nick name, creed, goals, abilities.  

    I mean zones could be filled with endless content.

    Message to Development Team :   You do not have to think of every thing yourself pooling minds is great.  You would be really surprised how creative and how smart people can be.
  • @nabler yep, still working on a couple of ideas. I should stop babbling on the forums so much and just bloody finish them :)
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