Wednesday 19 February 2014

What's a Megadungeon?

JD Jarvis at Aeons and Auguries wants to know what constitutes a megadungeon.

Here's my short answer, assuming that "levels" and "experience points" are relevant in your game.
  • It is a single adventuring site with multiple areas of increasing difficulty (challenge levels)
  • with enough "experience points" (rewards of adventuring relevant to character  advancement) in each "challenge level"
  • that two or more adventuring parties can advance to the character level needed to confront the next challenge level, without intruding on each other's sources of experience.

In other words, if in your game a single party will level up after exploring 30 rooms, then each level should have 60 rooms or more to be a megadungeon. To be clear, my definition is not so much about whether the megadungeon literally takes on multiple parties, but more about whether a single party feels that they have a great deal of freedom to get to the next level in multiple ways.

Anonymous, from plagmada,org

Compare this to the more typical adventure-based campaign where each individual adventure site gives all or part of the experience to advance one level. In that kind of campaign, multiple parties can coexist by visiting different adventure sites, instead of the same one.

Right now I'm running one of each kind of campaign and they each have their own rewards -- the multi-site campaign has a lot of breadth and variety while the single-site campaign offers intensity and the development of a strange, obsessive legendry over  multiple visits.


  1. As I see it, there are certain things that are and are not megadungeons. I think structure is important as well as campaign style.

    A megadungeon has at least six levels downward, not including sub-levels. It has multiple entrances, when possible going to multiple depths. There are multiple routes through the dungeon, and it is possible to skip whole areas through certain routes.

    A megadungeon is sufficiently deep and diverse that an entire campaign can be centered around it without needing to seek out additional adventure locations. It is generally not possible to "clear" a megadungeon room by room. It is also open-ended and while there may be a "climactic" encounter, a character or party reaching the lowest level will generally still leave a large swath of dungeon open for exploration.

  2. Roger and Wayne, thanks for the answers.

    Roger , A town (as example) is more then one home or business, could a megadungeon itself be considered more then one site?

  3. Well, then you have to wrangle over the definition of a site... how long the corridor has to be before another site begins in the underground ... At that point you realize that all definitions are fuzzy and the edge-cases will just have to lie on the edge.

  4. This is odd. I have never in almost thirty years of gaming ever considered whether the adventure or X number of rooms would give the PCs another level. I just ran a game.

    1. But surely you have some kind of sense of how adventures and leveling work together.I'm not proposing that people plan out their dungeons this way, just giving a rule of thumb to judge adventures as being "mega" or not.

    2. Not really, no. There are lots of weaker monsters and only a few tougher ones, not because of a conscious design, but because that's the way things are in nature, there are many rats and dogs and not many lions. These are placed more or less logically, so the weaker ones are in larger groups, the stronger ones in smaller groups or alone. There will be tracks and signs and traces of these creatures. I don't choose a difficulty or number of rooms for the players, they choose it themselves, by which things they choose to encounter. And there's the odd thing that pops up by chance, but that's all part of the fun. So I've had players level up in one session, then not for six sessions. It's up to them.