Dungeon Punk

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The Magical Database is actually magical, and the Badass Longcoat packs a wand of fireballs instead of a gun. The local organized crime syndicate is built on a thriving Black Market in illegal Eye of Newt, and keeps its boys in line with a cadre of demonic enforcers. Mordor is a slum. The trial of the century: Commonwealth vs. Golem Liberation Movement.

Welcome to Dungeon Punk, a Punk Punk genre which tries to apply the gritty, cynical tone of Cyberpunk and Steampunk to a Heroic Fantasy setting.

Usually, this takes the maxim "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." and turns it on its head. As we get more proficient with the use of magic, it takes on characteristics of technology. We have railroads, but instead of burning coal to work a steam engine, they have a bound air elemental. We have radios, but instead of sending electromagnetic waves across space, they work by sympathetic magic.

Note, however, that not all Magitek falls under this trope; it requires a slide toward the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism as well.

This always involves Functional Magic of one kind or another. Depending on the dark tone of the piece, one may find things are often Powered by a Forsaken Child.

Compare with the mystic Masquerades, where everything appears "normal" until you dig a little deeper...

Compare The Dung Ages. See also Urban Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, and Science Fantasy.

Not to be confused with a 70's rocker who's into bondage.

Examples of Dungeon Punk include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Vision of Escaflowne has mechas that are powered by dragon hearts.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima's Magic World, AKA Mars, naturally has a great deal of modern sensibility about it, since it exists contemporaneously with ours, and people travel back and forth between them. At the same time, it appears to have been designed, in-universe and out, to include every Adventure, Fantasy and RPG Trope known to man.


Comics[edit | hide]

  • From what little we saw, there were definite elements of this in Battle Chasers, particularly with the Wargolems and the prison.


Film[edit | hide]


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Harry Turtledove's Darkness series of novels are set in a world which, through the application of Functional Magic, has achieved a technological level roughly equivalent to 1940s Earth.
    • His War Between the Provinces is similar only with Civil War level tech.
    • On a sillier note there is the pun-filled The Case of the Toxic Spelldump
  • The novels of China Mieville's Bas-Lag Cycle including Perdido Street Station, where Magic, called Thaumaturgy, is studied in college and is considered one of the 3 fundamental branches of natural sciences next to biology and physics. The goal of the main character in Perdido Street Station is to discover a Grand Unified Theory that links the 3 branches.
  • Used in Robert A. Heinlein's 1940 novella Magic, Inc., making this Older Than Television. The story is an alternate reality where the 1940 USA is just like it really is, except that magic is real.
  • Robert Asprin's Myth series.
  • Kelly Mc Cullough's Ravirn series features classical Greek deities and demigods who travel through infinite parallel universes - organized as what amounts to a magical Internet - by casting spells in binary code, along with the help of magical familiars called webgoblins that can turn into laptops. Most of them are fond of black leather. This series seems particularly bent on confounding sci-fi and fantasy distinctions.
  • Glen Cook's Garrett P.I. novels are about a down-on-his-luck Hardboiled Detective in a Dungeon Punk setting a Los Angeles like city full of sorcerers, dwarfs, elves, and so on.
  • The Iron Dragon's Daughter and The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick.
  • Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy books.
  • Dragaera, when Vlad's narrating, has a lot of this going on. Paarfi, however, is writing historical romances.
  • The Thraxas books by Martin Scott are classic noir and cyberpunk stories set in fantasy world.
  • Tad Williams's "War of the Flowers" has a fairy kingdom which has developed this sort of society. According to a diary in the book, it used to be Steampunk, too.
  • Simon Hawke's Wizard series.
  • The Acts of Caine series by Matthew Stover. While the eponymous perspective character Caine is in fact from a comfortably Cyberpunk society, the characters native to the story's medieval setting are just as world-weary and cynical as anyone from Caine's Crapsack World.
  • Jess Gulbranson's Antipaladin Blues series, which takes all the ultraviolent basement D&D tropes and skewers them with a bunch of anachronistic Magitek and pop culture references.
  • The Nightside series plays with this in some of its alternate universes, although the Nightside itself is modern-day Urban Fantasy.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • The Eberron campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons is a straightforward example of the trope. The punk aesthetic is becoming increasingly common in D&D at large as well.
    • Privateer Press's Iron Kingdoms setting is another example; they refer to their specific blend of Steampunk and swords-and-sorcery as "Full-Metal Fantasy."
  • The cityplane of Ravnica, in Magic: The Gathering. Dungeon Punk creeps into many of the game's other settings as well; in fact, the main setting, Dominaria, makes a clear progression from Medieval European Fantasy in the Dark and Ice Ages to verging on Dungeon Punk in the Weatherlight era to After the End in the wake of the Phyrexian Invasion.
  • The tabletop roleplaying game Shadowrun mixes Dungeon Punk with more traditional Cyberpunk, though it tends more towards the Cyberpunk end.
    • Also, the much earlier FASAgame Earthdawn where magic and Magitek are much more commonplace and play a more central role. Not coincidentally, Earthdawn is canonically the setting of Shadowrun thousands of years earlier.
  • Bloodshadows, a Tabletop RPG setting for West End Games' (post-TORG) Masterbook series.
  • The Planescape setting for Dungeons & Dragons is a direct ancestor of Dungeon Punk and partial originator of its visual style.


Toys[edit | hide]

  • LEGO's Bionicle toyline has to be mentioned. According to the story, the Matoran Universe was a technological wonder, being a world built inside a Humongous Mecha. But the characters developed a deep mysticism of their own, different areas had varying levels of technology (some were tribal, others were urban utopias), and the citizens used various powers for all kinds of things. Though the writers later tried to explain that these powers were merely pre-programmed codes, they still seemed a heck of a lot like magic—How do you program a fluid that's filled with the souls of unborn scientists? Or how do you write a software for creating rocks out of nothing? There were some elements, however, like the mysterious Energized Protodermis, which they did not try to explain, and with the introduction of a broader universe, "magic" became a solid and undeniable part of the story. No matter how many times they use such words as "robots", "artificial intelligence" or "nanotech".


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The Elder Scrolls video game saga is increasingly acquiring Dungeon Punk themes, specially in the third game, Morrowind.
    • The sequel, Oblivion, went back to standard fantasy.
  • The CRPG Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is half Dungeon Punk, and half Steampunk. As an example, Orcs are discriminated against and work long hours in factories for low wages (Dungeon Punk analogs of racism and oppression of working class).
  • Jade Empire is a rare Eastern-style version of this - flying machines, golems and even power lines are present in what is otherwise a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Middle-Ages China. They're all established to be a combination of technology and sorcery.
  • In Ultima VII, the setting of the series, which was traditional Heroic Fantasy, takes a darker turn. Like Arcanum, it features an analogue of the Industrial Revolution and the Workers' Movement.
  • In Lost Odyssey, magic energy is literally just a fuel source (albeit one that can do all sorts of horrible and miraculous things) and the recent development of it has lead to many Magitek machines being created, such as odd-looking cars and street lamps that run off of arcane glowing stuff.
  • Many of the later games in the Zelda franchise take this approach, with pretty varied views on how cynical it actually is. Where the first few games were strictly magic and swords, as time progressed, you now have steam boats, trains, weird spinner tops, hookshots, and various Magitek automatons such as Armos and Guardians.
  • Some of the Final Fantasy games fit this, such as VI, VII, and The Crystal Bearers.
  • Planescape: Torment, being set in the D&D Planescape setting mentioned above and adding a thick layer of grime and rust and a grim, cynical storyline, is prime Dungeon Punk.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Dominic Deegan occasionally flirts with the trope, the climax of the Storm of Souls arc owing more to Neuromancer than anything else. The city of Erossus, aka "Sin City", is probably supposed to be a parody of it.
  • Penny Arcade's Song of the Sorcelator appears to take place in this sort of universe.
  • Errant Story. Big magic-powered cities with magic-powered 21st century level technology and beyond, including a Portal Network, and the omnipresent sensibilities of a 21st century JRPG nerd.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Tales of MU takes place in a Dungeon Punk setting which seems to be more or less based on D&D, complete with concepts like character classes seeping into the real world.