Friday, June 14, 2019

Megadungeon Design For Fun And Laziness

Quick summary: I want to have a megadungeon to run so I can have a fallback if I don't have a more complicated adventure planned. I have some methods I will use to make that possible.

(From Dark Souls 3)

I want to have a megadungeon to run because I am lazy. In theory, this sounds like a massive contradiction. What could possibly be lazy about having a multi-level maze full of monsters and treasure? Well its simple; megadungeons can just be pulled out at the drop of a hat whenever people want to play D&D but you don't have the energy to run a story-based and complicated adventure.

There can be aspects of diplomacy, role playing, and drama from a megadungeon game, but this emerges naturally and requires little intervention from the GM, it helps shift some of that responsibility on to the players.

Megadungeons are also good because they can be modular. If you find a nice dungeon someone else made, you can tack it on as a side-level. You can nab rooms from other adventures and place them in the megadungeon. 

The main problems with the megadungeon format is that;

  • There are hundreds of rooms that need to be stocked
  • You need to restock the dungeon after adventures
  • There is a high possibility of GM burnout
These can easily be remedied. First off, start out with just one dungeon level, with about 50 or so rooms. That is what Gygax started out with in the Greyhawk campaign. The second level can have some sort of guardian or lock that makes it difficult or impossible for the party to enter it in the first session or two, and the entryway to the second level should be in a far off section of the first level. This will buy you some time to make the next level while the party explores the first.

(From Darkest Dungeon)

Restocking can suck, as can stocking the dungeon in the first place, so this is why you should have some random tables for stocking most rooms. The vast majority of dungeon rooms should be randomly or semi-randomly stocked. Make a simple d6 monster encounter table and use that to stock most of the combat encounters. If you have any particularly neat ideas for other rooms, that's fine, go ahead and put it there, but if you can't come up with anything or just don't want to, just roll on the table. Traps are a little harder to randomize, but empty rooms are easy. Just roll on any number of mundane item tables and put something interesting in there. NPCs and Special rooms really need to be written up yourself though. And once a room is used up, mark it on your key and randomly restock it when you have a chance.

GM burnout is the hardest thing to fix, but it is possible. You just need to make sure you have some variety in the dungeon. Each level needs to have its own distinct theme, and each theme should be something you actually like and find interesting. If you don't care about goblins (you monster), don't have a goblin lair as one of your megadungeon's levels.

For example, here are some megadungeon level concepts I came up with on the fly just now:

1. Skeletons and goblins fighting in catacombs
2. Evil scientist's laboratory of horrors
3. Carnivorous underground jungle
4. Biomechanical giger-esque nightmare maze
5. Lovecraftian eldritch ruins
6. Flesh and bone labyrinth

These are all concepts I can get behind and would have fun running and designing. Now, contrast that with some published megadungeons coughRuinsofCastleGreyhawkcough where the levels can be described like this;

1. There are undead in an old castle ruin
2. Undead in an old castle ruin redux
3. Orogs and ogrillons in an old castle ruin
4. Orogs and ogrillons in a cave

It is good to have a unifying idea behind a dungeon, something that links all the levels together, but this shouldn't mean you just make a bland dungeon. Make something less Gary Gygax and more Jennel Jaquays.

Now you're gonna need some random tables, either ones you made yourself or ones you found. The AD&D DM's guide has some great ones, with tables for things in empty rooms, various kinds of traps, and of course all of the random encounter tables. After you pick out a few specific spots in a dungeon level and write them up, stock the rest  of the level with the following formula:

Roll 2d6, the first d6 determines if there is treasure in the room (1-3 there isn't, 4-6 there is), the second determines what kind of room it is, based on the table below:

1-2. Monster/Combat
3-4. Empty
5. Trap
6. NPC or Special Room

If there is treasure in the room, roll a d6, on a 6 the treasure is magical in nature, otherwise it is just normal mundane treasure.

Do this for every room, just noting what kind of room it is and if there is treasure, and if so, what kind. You could use the shorthand of;

C for combat
E for empty
T for trap
N for NPC
S for special

and then add * if there is treasure in the room, ** if there is magical treasure.

After you have everything noted, use your tables to fill in the rest, fixing anything on the fly if it doesn't work right. This method isn't pretty, but it is fast and will let you create and run a megadungeon very easily.

And a megadungeon has a certain charm to it, something so essentially D&D that its good to have one lying around. Its wonderful to just have an adventure location available for a simple saturday night D&D game, a mythic underworld to explore and plunder.

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