On Large Dungeons and the Merits Thereof

James M's Dwimmermount
Is the Megadungeon dead?

See, now that you've been hooked by the trite fearmongering, I can give you the real article.

Asking questions about if something is dead or alive is navelgazing that appeals to base human instincts to watch the successful fail or the underdog win.

Feel free to engage in that if you wish for entertainment or esteem purposes if you wish. It is not a productive use of time.

The truth is that what determines the goodness of something is it's quality. I mean, you can push a shitty product and do well. Once. Your total market success can be influenced by luck or what is in vogue (talk to White Wolf). But it is the quality of your work along with luck that determine its value in human endeavors.

So, is what you are doing of the highest quality? Then continue assured of your success.

As far as Megadungeons? I've finished Alchemy and am already thinking on Numenhalla.

It is a dungeon in the classic style done in a way that I have never seen, so it should be of some interest to the general population. Being assured that it is the quality of implementation that determines the success and not the idea; I share the following about the ways it is different:

  • Deliberate Design: As talked about in the Demon series, rooms are keyed in such a way to highlight objects relevant to the players.
  • Player engagement: Each section is specifically engaging to the players -- treasure maps, rumors, bounties and inhabitant quests all engage the player in the megadungeon. This focuses the play on what mega-dungeons do well (provide a living dynamic underworld environment) versus what they don't (exploring every last room)
  • Modular: Being that mega-dungeons are rarely useful (you will only play maybe 10 or 12 full campaigns in your life, how many megadungeons do you need?) the sections will specifically be designed as modular. They can fit in the Numenhalla framework or you can drop them in a hex or use them where you see fit.
  • Focused: Megadungeon play is designed for low levels. This is not something designed to take your characters from 1st to 20th level (tm) -- it's focused on something closer to B/X, where players can continue to be challenged deep into the dungeon.
  • Agency Directed Advice: So, you know, your players can actually do what they are interested when they play.
  • Evocative: Classic does not mean generic. Modules are designed to be interesting, subtle, creative, and interesting. Not random. It's trivial to randomly fill a big place. It's less trivial to do so in a way that engages players.
  • Visual: I am an artist, so not only will it be illustrated, but each illustration will be given with assistance to help make it useful in play. 
  • Cool: It will not be boring. I use empty rooms in the way they are designed, to increase tension or provide room for the DM to add their own additions to the dungeon.
So if that sounds like something you're interested in, stay tuned loyal readers. I'll be talking more about these things soon!

14 comments:

  1. I will post when live playtesting over G+ will occur. It will not be this year.

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  2. You've piqued my interest. Sounds great.

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  3. @Courtney That's cool, I can wait.

    ...is it ready now? ;)

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    Replies
    1. Numenhalla, or at least the background and upwards of seven modules is, yes. Background and setting information can be found under the Numenhalla tag on the blog.

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  4. > Agency Directed Advice: So, you know, your players can actually do what they are interested when they play.

    Explain please?

    I like your analysis of the "alive or dead" rhetorical trap.

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    1. Megadungeons are underground sandboxes made up of many different zones.

      Each zone can contain a wide variety of play-types. Seek and destroy, evade the hunted, military incursion, social and political environs, adventure, danger, traps, crypts etc.

      These must be clarified when running a megadungeon, through rumor, setting, or just plain talking to your players.

      To avoid the recent bruhaha involving a certain popular megadungeon, perhaps finding out that all the action is on level 2 or whatever might be helpful. I am not familiar with that one specific dungeon, but in Numenhalla it is quite possible to visit nearly any zone quite easily.

      It's the Quantum Ogre. "What do you guys want to do tonight?"
      "Kill a bunch of monsters!"

      A) Well good luck figuring out where to do that while you explore the entrance hall!

      B) Oh, well the crypt has a large number of undead about, and you know there is a hobgoblin fortification on level 2.

      Which one do you want?

      (This point is often misunderstood to be 'giving away the mystery. I value the mystery less then the enjoyment of my players. You can always just say instead "You may ask the sage and he can tell you where there are heavy pockets of resistance.")

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  5. Do you think that any system other than D&D lends itself to Megadungeons? I can't imagine it feeling 'right' to do it in a sci-fi setting.

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    1. Probably depends on the game. I imagine even alien civilizations are capable of building expansive networks of tunnels and structure. Probably even more capable than races in fantasy settings.

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    2. The players jump into an area of space which was uncharted prior to this. They encounter a titanic space station orbiting a desolate planet. The hull is made of a strange alloy which cannot be penetrated by their sensors. However, no exterior lights or other activity indicate that it is currently active.

      The sensors do pick up trace elements of precious metals on the surface of the planet, however. Based on the sensor data, it is likely that the vast majority of these metals were mined long ago.

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    3. Metamorphosis Alpha is a sci fi game where the characters live in a mega-dungeon, which is in the case of the Warden a giant generation ship sent to colonize far away planets that runs into some trouble. Most of the population of the ship dies, the robots go haywire and radiation causes most of the plants and animals on the ship to become dangerous mutants.

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  6. Looking forward to it!

    Also, the fact that you're probably right about me only playing 10 to 12 full campaigns in my life makes me sad. You have reminded me of my mortality and I do not appreciate it one bit. >:(

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  7. So win the lottery, quit your day job, and play 7 times a week instead of 1. That gives you 70-84 campaigns, which is probably more than enough.

    Just gotta pick the winning numbers, right?

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