For the time being, we’re going to focus on the Vault of the Goblin for several reasons…
1. It’s further along towards something akin to a working draft
2. It fits the history of the game better to build a dungeon and settlement first, and expand the world out from there.
3. It’s labeled as book 2… Shouldn't I do book 2 first?
So, on to a few tricky things in considering this…
The human settlement has something of a symbiotic relationship with the dungeon proper. It’s not just this forgotten thing sitting underneath… it’s something they are aware of and for some reason or another haven’t attacked and cleared yet. There’s got to be some reason that the local leaders don’t clear out the dungeon as the first order of business (and keep adventurers from having all of the fun)…
1. Manpower. They don’t have the peeps to do the work. The first ten militia members went down and never came back… we don’t have that many militia sitting around that we can keep throwing them into a bottomless pit!
2. Bigger fish to fry. Yeah, those pesky goblins coming back into the dungeons are a problem, but not as big of a problem as the orkish armies massing to the east and the monsters that keep wandering into our farmlands and wiping out our food supply.
3. Politics. It’s just not popular right now. There’s sentiment against it. The cousin of the prince doesn’t think it’s important right now, and has diverted tax money other places.
4. Superstition. There is great fear – if you don’t look at it, it’s not really there.
To my mind, the best answer is a hybrid of all of these things… let’s start with something akin to the Ancient Greeks… they won a war they weren’t supposed to win, and democracy took hold in the heart of a barbaric wild. So far, so good. However, threats kept creeping in, and eventually a strong hand (LAW baby) was deemed the best chance for long-term survival. This law is a larger force, not a natural outgrowth of the people who live here, but a larger outside group/collective that has come in ‘to help’. The people of the keep – generally hard-working and fair – have had to give up some freedom for security.
Holy cow but this is becoming a metaphor for the US today.
Anyhow, this outside force has done a cost/benefit analysis (because large lawful organizations are good at that sort of thing) and have decided that the huge tunnel complex underground that spits out a few humanoids once in a while rates as a low to moderate risk on the current scale, and has devised a plan. They have created a system of charters and deeds (paperwork – large lawful organizations are also good at this) to designate certain sections of the dungeon as territories of exploration. It might be that one independent adventurer’s guild has a charter to explore ‘all points north and east of the blue fountain on the first level’, while their rivals have a charter to explore ‘all that waits beyond the southern door of silvered oak’. These sorts of charters are clear for the first level or two, but as you delve deeper, and passages turn back towards each other, it gets harder to tell to whom which pieces have been allotted. I’d think this makes for some intense rivalries among various factions that all have a legal charter to be there – much less between the various cults, monsters and na’er-do-wells that call this place home.
Meanwhile, on the surface, there are two competing ‘armies’. One is an overwhelmed and under-resourced militia of locals who see protection of the keep proper – and the safety of its citizens – as job one. On the other side, the well-provisioned and deep-pocketed order of lawful fighterly types (the ‘guard’) sees the keep itself as a relatively small cog in a larger machine. In fact, their leader only took the job here as a stepping stone to a larger position elsewhere, and after ‘slumming’ it here for a few years plans to make his power play elsewhere. The militia, on the whole, knows of the dungeon but greatly fears it (since they were raised on stories of goblins coming in the night and ripping out your heart) while the members of the guard don’t see much to be gained by waging a war in a dark hole against degenerate humanoids who will spill blood for a few copper coins.
Sounds to me like the perfect place to drop a few adventurers and see what they do.