The Megadungeon Industry

Y’all know me. Know how I earn a livin’. I’ll catch this bird for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down the pond chasin’ bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, an’ down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that’ll bring back your tourists, put all your businesses on a payin’ basis. But it’s not gonna be pleasant. I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, chief. I’ll find him for three, but I’ll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you’ve gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don’t want no volunteers, I don’t want no mates, there’s just too many captains on this island. Ten thousand dollars for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing. — Quint, “Jaws”

It occurs to me that, once a megadungeon is discovered and starts being exploited by various adventurers, it’s only natural that a sort of “capitalistic ecology” will begin to form around the dungeon environs.

For example, I once had a megadungeon placed out in a wilderness, which the player characters subsequently discovered and started hauling out the usual cartloads of treasure. Within a couple of weeks, other adventuring parties started showing up. A month later, a tavern started getting built. Soon the tavern added rooms, and a blacksmith showed up, then a gem-buyer, etc. You get the idea.

It occurs to me that a whole industry would, in the case of particularly large megadungeons, rise up. Sure, there would be the usual folks who sell $100 shovels and $10 torches, but there would be other, more ingenuous, sorts as well. The traders in treasure maps would descend first; not only selling but buying too– the trade in information is invaluable. Hirelings, of course; need a cheap spear or sword? They’re probably going to be readily available, but at a stake of a share of the loot. The usual run of alchemists ready to buy the odd stirge proboscis and such, but maybe the alchemists don’t want to deal with the violent and dirty adventurers directly. Perhaps there’s a whole class of middle-men who take the greasy grimy griffon guts and pass them along to the folks who turn them into the wonderful potions they keep finding in the dungeons.

And then there are the specialists, like Mr. Quint quoted above. Why wouldn’t there be people who you would hire, on a one-off basis, to fight the tough baddie you just can’t get past? The troll-hunter. The dragon-slayer. The purple worm tamer. They’ll all have a reputation, and they’ll insist they’re in charge, and they’ll all have a very high price for their services…

Guides, too. If there can be guides for the wilderness, who can take you through the forest and over the ridge to the next valley, then surely there are guides who will hire out to take you to the third level of the dungeon. Maybe they were the lantern bearer in the ill-fated expedition of the Knights of Holy Fire. They saw the way through, and managed to scrape out alive, and they’ll show you, too… for a price.

I see a whole complex of NPCs ready to help, and take advantage of, player characters hitting the enormous dungeon complex “but a league east of the city”. Might make things a lot more colorful, when it comes time to change in those gems, or when the party is flummoxed and some helpful chap happens along with a map that “is guaranteed to show you the quickest route to the fourth level of the dungeons!”

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

13 thoughts on “The Megadungeon Industry

  1. You're totally right. Didn't Undermountain something like this?

    This post was massively-inspiring too – it's dripping with adventure hooks and potential crunchy bits.

    Bookmarked forever. 🙂

  2. I was actually thinking something along the same lines today. A treasure and magic filled dungeon of whatever size isn't going to just be ignored and left alone, it's going to be plumbed for all it's worth.

    Makes you wonder why nobody's gone in and looted the place before, but that's really a case by case basis anyways isn't it?

  3. Cool idea that whole villages economy is built on a dungeon what becomes an interest for the adventurers.

    Little sleeping farming community becomes a big trade center for those dungeon-goods as merchants see good business there.

    Absolutely great idea.

  4. The current dungeon I'm drawing up has a small shantytown at the periphery of the mountain crag that houses its entrances. It's a new idea for me, though, actually inspired by the "Wizardry" computer games.

    My working assumption in past years had always been that large dungeons are generally at least a couple days' travel from the nearest town since the dungeon would tend to spit out monsters that would attack anything closer.

    Makes you wonder why nobody's gone in and looted the place before,

    …is the kind of thinking that gets people to enter a dungeon, and helps to outfit, pay, and feed needy orcs, ghouls, etc. 🙂

  5. Yeah, I approach the naturalistic take with some ambivalence. On the one hand it can be really interesting and deep, on the other hand you don't want to design whole sections of really cool dungeon only for NPC parties to go rampaging through them. I'd use the "rival parties and dungeon economy" hook sparingly, for sure.

  6. This creates plot and story right out of the gate:

    * Characters are determined to clear out the dungeon.

    * NPC's don't want them to return if it will ruin the economy of the area.

    * Nearby humanoid tribes would love to set up base in the cleared out dungeon.

  7. N. Wright: In my particular case, the question of "Why didn't anyone clear out the dungeon before now?" is already solved. They did, and their names were Robilar, Erac's Cousin, etc. The question is, how and why did it get "un-cleared out" all of a sudden? 😉

    Matthew: Hadn't read that before. Funny stuff!

  8. It occurs to me that a whole industry would, in the case of particularly large megadungeons, rise up. Sure, there would be the usual folks who sell $100 shovels and $10 torches, but there would be other, more ingenuous, sorts as well.

    Gary alluded to this too in the 1e AD&D rules when he talked about why the equipment list prices were so high and compared it to the economy of a gold rush boom town.

    In fact, you could probably get a lot of inspiration for a megadungeon boom town from the history of the California Gold Rush.

  9. Uh, stuff comes OUT of wild dungeons, right? To, you know, feed on stuff, like merchants stupid enough to be hanging out too close.

  10. I'm about to start an adventure with my nephews. First time players. We'll go through a modified B2. If they're into it then I plan to have a Megadungeon within 20 leagues that they can find their way to by the time they are second or third level. Of course, there are multiple towns around this Megadungeon (Great Rift, for those familiar with Greyhawk.)

  11. On the other hand, there'd be a large incentive to conceal the quantity of riches available in the dungeon from other adventurers.

    Perhaps there'd be a guy in town who, for a price, would essentially fence the treasure, buying it from the adventurers and smuggling it out of town, to be sold elsewhere, thus obfuscating the source.

    Or… what if the adventuring party shows up at the dungeon's entrance, and finds it guarded by some high-level paladins, "This dungeon's loot is claimed for the benefit of the widows and orphans of Waterdeep" (or whatever).

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