Home > Uncategorized > Maps of some classic dungeons, 1: The Pantheon, Paris

Maps of some classic dungeons, 1: The Pantheon, Paris

December 10, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

Paris is for monsters.

I haven’t been to Beijing or Delhi and it’s quite possible that they are just as teratophilic but walking around Paris I have to say, it’s a perfect lair; seductively full of holes, it wears its unknowability on its sleeve.

Anyway. As usual, there’s some discussion of dungeon maps going on, and how generic they often are, and whether they accurately reflect any sort of known Earth architecture and so on.

And ever since I picked up DnD around the age of 10 or 11 I’ve wondered about a few of the architectural tics of the typical TSR module. Endless crypts under a ruined church/abbey/shrine. Weirdly industrial-looking extruded pseudo-medieval corridors, joining nicely defined rectilinear rooms, separated by regular doors so the whole layout looks like a flowchart, all right angles and neatly serialized vaults for the undead and their treasures. And as I wandered around some actual medieval buildings (or at any rate authentick 19th century reconstructions of them) I wondered where DnD got its putatively medievalish architecture because it certainly wasn’t Fort la Latte or Crac des Chevaliers or Rome.

But then in 2011 I visited a near-ideal D&D dungeon, and now I know. Not the catacombs, although those are inspiring enough, nor the metro, nor the infamously nauseating sewer tour. No, I’m talking about that monument to 19th century National Piety, the Paris Pantheon.


(shown here as a pantheon-in-a-Pantheon – the old conceit of the miniature model of the building you’re currently in, so you can play God but then discover you, too, are the subject of your own play)

Granted, the crypt corridors are vaulted and therefore not perfect Gelatinous Cube runs, but the vaults spring high enough up on the walls that they don’t interfere much with sword-swinging and it features regular torch sconces and abundant grave goods in cramped little rooms just waiting to be disturbed and yes, the corridors really are 10 feet wide.


Above ground there’s a lofty temple with a stacked triple-dome (so there’s some secret space tucked away in the walls like the Opera Garnier, to keep the ghost of Victor Hugo happy)

triple domePantheon_modelsecret dome

and just a bit of mortuary gloom hinting at its weird culty appropriation of 18th century church enlightenment.


Underground it’s a like a Better Homes and Gardens high-class tomb, all orderly ancestor veneration, before the earthquakes and tree roots and goblinoid squatters move in, haunted (mostly) by great dead French writers.


And it truly is deeply weird – I’ve always thought the default D&D dungeon lacked flavor – that it was a neutral background for events like doors and monsters. But no: instead it’s heavy with sacred geometries and secret doors and blind alcoves. It has its own architectural logic, which has nothing to do with light or air or access. Its inhabitants don’t need to get around. They have reached their destination.


In floor plan it’s like a motherboard or a space station.


You see, the style of the enlightenment mausoleum is that it should remind you of a house while absolutely not being one – so it’s full of incidental details and frames for doors and windows which are just… blank, neatly-fitted stone. Its faceless character – a uniform maze – has its own malign power, to be played on by the DM. Caves look all the same because they pile up unmanageable, inhuman detail, so the mind fails to navigate their unfamiliarity. But neoclassical tombs are designed to slide off the brain using a uniform blend of yellowish ashlar stone blocks.

Paris1665Le Pantheon

And right in the center there’s an enlightenment-era particle accelerator (running off, as is typical for crypts, into a blind wall – because obviously the particles continue in the afterlife, where you cannot follow).

Screen shot 2011-12-15 at 9.46.07 AM.pngScreen Shot 2019-12-10 at 2.51.44 PM.png

Did you know there’s a real particle accelerator under the Louvre? I bet it’s a mere material echo of this spiritual one. Which, by the way, lurks directly below Foucault’s Pendulum.

So 30-odd years later I’ve learned to love the strangely uniform DnD dungeon. It’s a Napoleonic tomb. Napoleon, that grandiose psychopath obsessed with Egypt and the Valley of the Kings.

It’s a post-apocalyptic pharaonic copycat. Which can’t help being made as well as its people could make it.

As befits a longdeferred post about a mausoleum, I have no idea if these links are dead.

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