Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Megadungeon Connections

A well-constructed megadungeon gains depth - in the esthetic sense, not architectural sense - from the connections between rooms and levels - again, in the esthetic sense.
  • The level in room 25 of level 2 opens the gateway in room 60 of level 4.
  • The lizard men in area B of level 3 are entertaining a minotaur ambassador from the medusa on level 5
  • The painting shows the dungeon's architect as a young man, battling serpents while a gleaming platinum is within reach.
Sometimes these connections, too, can inform the wider campaign world.
  • You realize with a start that these are love letters implying a torrid affair between the current Bishop of Vorgrad and the Mother Superior of the local abbey.
  • The book reveals a recipe for immortality, but it is not any herb or potion. Rather, it is the shocking heresy that the Gods were once mere mortals, who over long lives filled with heroic deeds accumulated enough virtu to ascend to the Outer Planes.
The challenge for the modular megadungeon is to take bits and pieces from this creator and that creator and integrate them into a whole that gratifies the players' need to feel like they're discovering things, clues and traces in space and time. Some reliable ideas:

The Downstream Lever: A control or trick or puzzle in one area, opens or closes or activates or releases something in another area.

The Historical District: This kennel ... and this kitchen ... and this library ... all belonged to the Demonic Chef of Avalino, and bear his marks and signs.

War: The inhabitants of one area are at war with the other, hold captives and loot, and fortify the border between them...

Peace: ... or due to diplomatic or trade relations between them, letters, gifts, and envoys from the others are to be found.

I'm not sure if any other ideas of this kind exist but if so, post 'em up.

At this point the question has to be asked: what does this mean for the designer of modular dungeon pieces? Do you leave levers up and put a few blank spaces for the megadungeon assembler to note down what the lever does? Or do you leave it up to them to pencil in little notes? I think any kind of module should encourage and help out good practice, so I'm going to have explicit "dangling hooks" in the dungeon, which the user can freely connect to other sections. Likewise for the secrets of the dungeon, the political area and indeed the whole universe. I'll tell you how big the secret is, you fill in what it is and what the clue might be.


  1. I've been scribbling notes for years now for a megadungeon I won't ever create, let alone run. A portion of the first level consists of the workrooms used by the laborers and engineers who built the dungeon, so scattered through these rooms are hints and clues - in the form of paintings, uncompleted sculptures, models, notes, and so on - at what lies on lower levels.

  2. @Black Vulmea: Why don't you post it on your blog or somewhere else?
    Even if you don't run it, at least you can read the report (and receive the thanks) of those who do.

    Adding a couple of connections:
    Enslavement - One tribe has enslaved another. Expect leaders of the former guiding the latter, and menial labor in the area being done by the slaves.

    Following a legendary party - A very powerful legendary party of adventurer has been through the dungeon. Signs of their passage, hint scrawled on walls, caches of resources and eventually their bodies (and loot!) can be found along the path they followed.

  3. @ Black Vulmea: Consider Worthstream's request heartily seconded!

    And, a connection similar to Worthstream's:

    Not the First - This maw to the underworld has seen many adventurers--not just great or even passable ones--come and, generally, stay. The debris of their passage marks all but the best-hidden nooks and crannies: remains of fires, corner-middens, short bits of rope or chalk, pocket change, remains of henchmen and livestock, and, of course, the adventurers' remains, quiet or not.

  4. @Worthstream and Bob:
    Following a legendary party/Not the First
    These are awesome ideas! Thank you both of you. I'll definitely use these elements in an upcoming dungeon.