Try this video by Esper, who is clearly much loved by some. I only got at far as his description of his really 'cool' villain - a sorceress who was burned in a fire that also killed her parents, leaving her horribly scarred so that now she bears a resentment against . . . well, the party at least.
Even the villains are orphans these days. It is amazing that there are any parents left. Somehow, I have managed to somehow live, leaving my daughter with a father all this time - this must be what is holding her back from global conquest.
I find myself at a loss for something to say about having a dungeon 'theme.' I ought to write something but my mind is drawing a blank. To begin with, I don't think these people actually understand what 'theme' means - the word they really want is 'motif,' along the lines of producing a pattern that flows through the dungeon in order to obtain a sense of completion.
Only, this suggests that dungeons are made by architects and interior decorators, who conceive of the whole, bring a set of laborers and construct the whole complex in a few seasons. As if for the Disney corporation, I suppose. And while this makes a pleasant amusement ride, on the whole it strikes me that if the party is aware that they are on an amusement ride, the party is likely to think, "It isn't like the DM will kill us in the first room and forego all the things the DM has obviously prepared for us to see."
There's a real feeling like we've just climbed into the car in order to see the various displays and models that are set up. We ooo and aaah at the dioramas. We do our part in pulling the levers and punching buttons, all the interactive stuff the 'ride' has given for us to do, helping us to be a part of it. Then we step into the sun and stretch our arms and feel good about being off our ass. We chat about it on the way to the Tiki Bar and have a couple of daiquiris, recounting the exciting parts and sharing feelings.
It all seems somehow . . . lacking.
Yet I have no way to describe the alternative. I don't set up motifs and I don't count on the party finding the object in Room 22 that enables them to open the door in Room 17. I don't expect them to interpret the symbol that repeats throughout - not because there won't be a symbol, but because in the long run as they are killing things, the symbol won't offer any special 'insight' into the mindset of the dungeon's resident orphan.
When the Goths stormed into Rome, I'm sure they were all very interested in the statues and the imagery and all the things that seemed to fit into the same motif - but they weren't looking for interest, they were looking for revenge and for gold (or perhaps food and articles of comfort, who really knows?). All that Roman jazz was made for Romans,not for the Goths . . . I'm sure there were victims at the time who cried out, "Please don't destroy the bust of my grandfather's grandfather! He was a great man." I'm also sure the Goth looked puzzled and then smashed the bust, because why not?
I don't think the Goth 'experience' was lessened by their not understanding the dramatic importance of the end of the Roman Empire. They had their own motivations. I suppose that this fits into my lack of motifs - in that I assume the players are able to come up with their own reasons for entering a dungeon.
Suppose they are looking for a McGuffin that they've heard about and they want. How does that translate into the creatures of the dungeon knowing that the party is coming? Or what day? How is it these creatures are so darned ready? Is the McGuffin really of equal importance to everyone in this situation?
The only real 'theme' that I concentrate on is making the situation very alien to the players. This puts them off balance - like getting the car in Disneyland that keeps jumping the rails, scaring the hell out of the players more than the pretend ghosts can.
Perhaps there is an essay there. I must give it more thought.