Megadungeon talk abounds!

“There’s something afoot in the wind”

There’s definitely something in the air lately, because I’ve noticed a decided uptick in the conversations about megadungeons in the OSR blogosphere lately. I cannot help but be pleased, of course, as this is a subject near and dear to my heart, and my own megadungeon effort, the Castle of the Mad Archmage, is now available in print and pdf.

First, JDJarvis at Aeons & Auguries asks “How Mega is Mega?” The question being just how large a megadungeon needs to be in order to be a proper megadungeon. I personally don’t think it’s necessarily a question of either room count or physical size. A vast area filled with twisty passages and the occasional room can serve the same function as a much smaller, but denser, dungeon. It’s about the time the PCs spend intensely engaged with the environment, rather than the size of the environment per se. If your dungeon is so crammed full of interesting things that the PCs spend an entire evening on three rooms, it’s going to take them just as long to explore as if it were vastly expanded physically, and a lot more time was spent in exploration (and I don’t think a megadungeon must choose one or the other; different levels or even areas on a particular level could have both characteristics). And if nothing else, check out his post for the off the wall crazy map of his dungeon.

Roger the GS at Roles, Rules, and Rolls makes a direct reply to JDJarvis in his “What’s a Megadungeon?” He presents what seems to be a handy rule of thumb; each level should have twice as many x.p. in total than is required for a party of PCs to level up. With 4E’s emphasis on balance and challenge levels, I’m somewhat leery of such hard-and-fast formulae. That said, I can see the value in making sure that, if you’re using dungeon levels to roughly equate to character experience level, there should at least be enough x.p. for the PCs to level up before being forced down.

Next, Peter over at Dungeon Fantastic asks “How Mega is My Dungeon?” He comes up with a list of four criteria that are important to a dungeon being classified as a megadungeon: repeated play; cumulative play; diverse challenge levels; and end points, but no end. I especially like his point that “A dungeon often has an end (a demi-lich, say, or a boss fight with a dragon) but a megadungeon has accomplishments.” That certainly fits with my own design philosophy regarding Castle of the Mad Archmage. Seemingly in response to A&A, he deliberately states that specific room count is not, in and of itself, a criterion. I would have to agree on that score (see above), and also with his point about factions not being necessary.

EDIT: Apparently there are even more out there than I list above. Please feel free to post more links to posts about megadungeons (keep it to within the last week, please) in the comments, and let’s discuss!

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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.

5 thoughts on “Megadungeon talk abounds!

  1. I think the two most telling points for me are:

    Regions of diverse nature. A 'dungeon' might be fairly homogeneous in nature: a castle, a prison, a temple. You might find a couple of different areas (caves under a wizard's tower or under a monastery seems a popular choice). A megadungeon might have the above-ground wizard's tower, underground caverns, lost temple, dwarven safehold (give the PCs a chance to find allies), and so on.

    Second, ecology and politics. You actually have one or more societies down there that, to some degree or another, interact.

    I suppose you could describe a megadungeon as a collection of dungeons that are connected both physically (you can move from one to the other) and informationally (you can learn about each other and use that to explore).

  2. This current crop of discussion kicked off with the esteemed Gus L over at Dungeon of Signs discussing his experiences with open spaces in Anomalous Subsurface Environment:

    Space and Boredom and the Megadungeon

    My own resolution for the year was to post a weekly megadungeon update on the blog, so I was glad to jump into Gus's conversation with discussions about pacing, dungeon size, and creation techniques:

    Pacing versus Size
    You Will Never Finish That Dungeon
    Meet the Anti-Beedo

    The conversation picked up across the other blogs – it's been good reading! For myself, I like Roger's definition that a megadungeon should be big enough for multiple gaming groups or adventuring parties to explore at the same time. That's a pretty good benchmark I can use myself and captures the spirit of Gary's basement games as well.

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