On Reader Mail, Megadungeon Restocking

Sándor writes:
How do you guys handle areas already explored in your #megadungeons (or just large dungeons that take multiple sessions to go through)?
Do you pick up where you left of last time ("Okay, so you go through a bunch of rooms and corridors, and end up at that shrine of Orcus you slew those cultists. What do you do now?") or have the players navigate through each room again (even if the players just want to go on from that shrine)?
How about describing the environs and random encounters? Do you still describe everything visible and noticeable on concentrate on the new and unseen things? How do you incorporate random encounters ("Okay, so you go through a bunch of rooms and corridors... rolls some dice ... and, remember that magical smithy? As you go past the door leading there, half a dozen skeletal dwarves with unreasonably large axes rush out towards you.") - if at all? Also, traps that may be triggered again?
Hey, and thanks for asking.

I'll tell you how I handle it. Poorly.

Here is what I actually do in play. This is because I'm not running a megadungeon, I'm playtesting one, which makes a big difference.

  • The players start each week in town
  • The game ends when the leave the megadungeon (this means if they go back to town an hour after we start, that ends the game for the week.)
  • If they don't leave the megadungeon by the end of play, I roll on this horrible table
  • I do no restocking or refilling of explored areas. (If I were running (vs. playtesting) a megadungeon I would)
  • If there characters want to go somewhere and they have only been there once, I make them go there room by corridor by room. If they have made it there with no errors successfully twice, I essentially allow them to return with only wandering monster checks.
I think for a lot of Dungeon Masters there is an idea that there's a "proper way" to do this. Maybe after a game you sit down and simulate what happens to those empty spaces inside the dungeon. I think that a lot of people feel that if they aren't doing this, that they are doing it incorrectly. Those people are wrong of course. There isn't any incorrectly.

I don't think anything really has to be done. A lot of the work falls on the wandering monster tables. Going back down to level 3 and run into some orcs on the way? Guess who's making an incursion into level 2. This can be made even more entertaining for the players by perhaps coming up with a 12 entry weirdness table or spending the week thinking of one thing that might be different on their way down into the dungeon. 

And that quick and dirty way seems to be a common method a lot of Dungeon Masters used (based on the original private thread this discussion came up in.) Using a Barrowmaze style restocking method is quick (1-4 nothing, 5 monster, 6 monster and treasure) and a good way to handle quickly filling uncleared rooms. 

You should know, for Dungeon Masters running long term games—the reality is, most of the time we just decide something interesting has happened because we thought of something interesting or because we forgot to do any sort of restocking at all. 

Hack & Slash 
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  1. Last paragraph, +1.

    What's the logic behind ending the game session when PCs return to town, even if in real life you have more time to play? I could see such a device being used to mitigate 15 minute work day tendencies, but that does not sound like you. In practice, I find emphasizing the option to go back and recover within a session (that is, allowing multiple delves) makes for a more complete risk/reward choice.

    1. It makes leaving the dungeon a real choice. If they want to go further, then they have to push their luck.

  2. I restock my megadungeon rather consistently but since it's organically stocked (as opposed to randomly) in the first place I have a real simple table to see what faction moved in to take over a now cleared place, or just expand the nearest power to take more space, if the players leave it alone for too long. I then place that faction where it makes sense. Otherwise I just roll on random vermin encounter tables.

    The only issue with restocking is when the restocked area is the only way to a new area for exploration, because then the party has to push through that are to move on, so a full restocking is something I try to avoid - and I make allowances for a portion of the dungeon becoming "civilized".

    In something like ASE this has meant that all the monsters are dead or fled and the place is crawling with NPC parties who are going full tweaker on the area - trying to hammer through walls, squatting there and putting graffiti on everything. In my own game this means that the starting town itself expands tenuously into cleared areas allowing the party to bypass them - though player inaction/action can eliminate these outposts.

  3. Usually running one shots, where the players don't leave enough time between forays for the dungeon to be repopulated. I am tentatively using a mixture of random tables and individual ideas for restocking Castle of the Mad Archmage. This post and the comments have been a good source of ideas for continuing the process.

  4. I pretty much use the Barrowmaze method you mentioned. After each session, I just go through each room the players passed through and roll to restock. I wrote a bit about it on my blog. I find that restocking the dungeon really helps create the feel of a living place.

  5. Thanks again, Courtney, for your answer!


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