This is almost a direct reversal of some statements I’ve made in the past.
I had this neat mechanic I was working on to determine the level of a dungeon randomly during generation which I tried to make work for a long, long time. It didn’t work, and I think I understand why it can’t or won’t work.
Every dungeon — no matter the level of the party — must begin life as a challenge that can be overcome. “Can,” in the sense of possibility — not of probability.
Every dungeon is a risk, but a risk that can be overcome.
For that reason, every dungeon must begin at level one.
From a strict metagame perspective, this concept is parallel to every PC beginning at level one. Like rolling for ability scores — this is one of those “equalizers.”
“Can a dungeon be higher than level one?”
Absolutely. A dungeon can also be advanced beyond level one — or “created” at a level higher than one, specifically to threaten higher-level PCs — much as characters “can” be created at a level higher than 1st.
But the important point is to “start” there.
To “begin” at 1st level.
After having played some Dungeon Keeper now, I wonder if it’s possible to recreate and/or expand upon the idea of the “dungeon heart,” which represents the animating force around which a dungeon is constructed (e.g. the player), and must be defended against invading heroes.
A dungeon could be viewed in a manner similar to a base-constructing strategy game — though much of my work in this area has been to streamline the dungeon generation process to the point of being “rolled up” a la character generation.
“The Stairs Down”
In the process of writing this post, I think I may have figured out what the equivalent to the “dungeon heart” ought to represent — let’s call it the raw possibility of a dungeon going still deeper or, “the stairs down.”
Destroying the dungeon heart represents the defeat of the player — which is only my assumption, I’ve only played the first 3 levels and none of the heroes made it to my dungeon heart — but “the stairs down” seems an apt approximation.
Despite all your efforts (especially in the early stages), I think there ought to be this lingering question of whether you actually “finished” the job. It should be that nagging doubt that ultimately drives you to seek the destruction of The One Ring by casting it into the fires whence it was forged.
So, I’m going to try this tack for a while. See where it leads me.