Thursday, October 11, 2012

More On Megadungeons

No, not moron megadungeons, you jokers!  We're going to talk some more about this game foundation and current hot-topic!

Two level megadungeon.
Got a couple months to spare?
Having started in this 'hobby' back in the late 70's the concept of the dungeon being the tent-pole or hub of the campaign has been ingrained in my brain.  Needless to say I love megadungeons or at least love the concept of what they are.

There's been a lot of chatter in recent days about the decline of the megadungeon (history repeating itself).  If it were the decline of the mega-church, I don't think I'd be writing a post.  But it's megadungeon and so here we are.

Perhaps many OSR gamers have their own definitions of what a megadungeon is.  Besides being a huge (mega) underworld complex (dungeon) I've recently defined what it is to me:

Megadungeon: A funhouse. A nightmare. A dreamscape.  An ever changing endless twisting of tunnels, chambers, caverns and worlds within worlds ruled by all manner of creatures, denizens, cults, sorcerers, races, demons leading deeper beneath the surface or out into cosmic realms or into the depths of a soul or just out into a back alley.  In other words anything can happen and real world rules don't apply. When you walk in be prepared for anything.  ANYTHING!!

 That there pretty much sums up a great campaign - open-ended, anything can happen, constantly changing based on PC interaction.  In fact, the campaign itself, with all it's dungeons, forests, cities and towns is a megadungeon.

In recent years there have been a number of 'products' produced, and taken out of mothballs, by many of those faithful OSR enthusiasts that have taken the megadungeon concept to it's full potential; Stonehell, Dwimmermount, Castle of the Mad Archmage, Xlarthen's Tower (direct to pdf), Mines of Kuhnmar(somewhere around there), the Darkness Beneath and others.


We're not schoolkids anymore with hours to kill and days to play.  With adult life, most of us are lucky to get a session in once a month.  Our group gets a generous two per month and even then it's rare when every player shows up.

So with that in mind, does exploring the same underground complex session after session make for a good campaign?

Since I feel a Megadungeon campaign is interchangable with a general campaign (various dungeons and wilderness settings) yes, it does.

That said, a megadungeon is a lot to explore.  If you figure a level is mapped out on a standard piece of graph paper, you've got a ton of square footage of dungeon to explore. With sporadic play that can take months or more just to get through a single level.  Even the OSR's one page dungeon format (30 X 30 squares) can and has taken three or more sessions to get through.  At our play rate that can be two months or more.

Does that really matter in the scope of a campaign?

No, I don't think so.  After all, I run a sandbox and let the players decide where they want to go and what they want to do.  If they want to hang out and explore one dungeon until they are satisfied (or killed) so be it.  Who am I to say no you can't do that.  If they're bored, they'll move on and I'll let them.  In fact, Our campaign started around Holmes' sample dungeon which I extended into a megadungeon.  I've tried to get the players 'out of town' and explore other areas, which they have, but they've always ended up back where it all started.  Zenopus' Tower.

So whether a megadungeon is a multi-level funhouse of doom beneath the surface or the campaign world itself, it's all the same to me.  And in that sense, Megadungeons will always be an eternal part of this game.


  1. One thing though about megadungeons, by their nature of being big, tend to put the "good" stuff on the lower levels

    1. As true as that may be, it was always my understanding that you'd progress in character level as you were able to proceed down into deeper levels of the dungeon. The "good" stuff would change depending on what character level you were and what level of the dungeon you'd be exploring knowing that deeper levels would be more deadly and more rewarding. If you were a 1st level character and you wanted that bigger prize you'd delve deeper than the first level of the dungeon. Of course, you may not make it out alive.

  2. Thanks for the cool post. I agree that the megadungeon is a place where the rules of "normal" roleplaying may not apply.

    I did recently manage to create my own large dungeon using the Dizzy Dragon website/generator. I was able to save it off to a giant .jpg file and even printed it out as a 4' x 8' banner.

    Here's my Megadungeon.