Tuesday 5 July 2011

M is for Megadungeons (Part II)

As mentioned at the end of the last post, evocative names are important.  It is desirable to have names that both “sound right” and that reflect the atmosphere of the game.  I came up with these:

  • Gathouse (from Gothous, from shoggoth)
  • Etolkin (anagram of Tolkein)
  • Ny Sandu (anagram of Dunsany)
  • El Nysrith (anagram of Slytherin)
  • Ogrushrub (anagram of Burroughs)
  • Hobert Warder (from Robert E. Howard)
  • Owlgrin
  • Portersmith
  • Malcaper
  • Grimalkin
  • Elzamere

In addition to some major sites, and some major creatures/creature groups, we need to consider major treasures – the “swords & hoards” that lure the PCs into the dark. In this case, we will be developing the following items (at a minimum):

  • Sword
  • Staff
  • Hoard
  • Gem
  • Crown
  • Amulet
  • Ring
  • Shield
  • Mail
  • Tome

Finally, I’ve begun the process of brainstorming about what has already been done:

(1) The hyenas look like grotesque mastiffs. They might be linked to the Crypt of Sleeping Dogs.

(2) The otyugh dwells in Filthfall Middens, a great chasm that runs through several levels, and is used by many creature groups to dispose of waste. Imagine the odour!

(3) The grey ooze is huge, maybe even colossal...inky black, intelligent, and telepathic (psionic?). It is called “Blott”. Blott is neither good nor evil, and has plenty of food in the dungeon. It wants something that the adventurers can bring in from the outside.....I am thinking some sort of drug that the adventurers would need to deal with the seamy underbelly of society to acquire.

(4) The dragon’s name has softened over the ages. While ancient books may refer to “The Bludgrue Wyrm”, it is now “Blothegrue”.

(5) Cinderqueen. Not sure who this is yet, but I liked the name.

(6) Some area of deep mudflats. Movement is very difficult for adventurers, but not for flying creatures. Even something like stirges could cause problems here, even for mid- to high-level adventurers (using the RCFG or Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rulesets anyway, for 3e you might want to consider a template!).

(7) Remember those polished bones on the beach? Well, without wind there won’t be regular wave action underground, so one has to determine what polished the bones. I am thinking of a “Bonestripper’s Guild” (perhaps the ghouls mentioned earlier). These are creatures the characters can talk to....from a position of strength, anyway. Think of the ghouls in Neil Gaimen’s The Graveyard Book.

(8) Bandit’s Roost would be near the surface (so the bandits can get out to plunder). It is now occupied by a Parliament of Cats. Many, many cats from miles around gather here for mysterious purposes of their own. And for this to work, the cats must remain mysterious, despite the players’ fervent wishes to learn their secrets! Some of these cats are just cats, others are tough (average 3 HD), and some may even have class levels. Cats can be found on any level of the dungeon. They have their paws in everything in all of the human, halfling, and elven communities for at least a league in all directions.

If the cats are treated well by the PCs, all is well. They simply watch. If not, the PCs find themselves haunted by cats everywhere they do. The cats meddle in local politics, and use their influence to wreak vengeance on PCs who attack them. The city gaoler has a cat. When the PCs are refused a room at the inn, the innkeeper’s cat blinks at them from atop the bar. Etc., etc.

Eventually, the cats may deign to speak to PCs that consistently treat them well, neither pushing their advances nor forgetting gifts of catnip or cream. Perhaps by the time the PCs are level 6-10.....though a PC with a cat familiar may be able to send said familiar to treat with the Parliament earlier than this.

The cats know (or at least seem to know) absolutely everything. And their influence can open doors that would otherwise remain shut to the PCs. Even the King has a cat.....

Another quick note, while I’m thinking of it. It is all too common for PCs to encounter creatures that are in the prime of their lives. Our megadungeon requires that there be young, and old creatures as well. Indeed, one of our “name” creatures could be something that was the most dangerous thing in the dungeon, once, but is now far past it’s prime.

It is far too easy to think of setting as a location for PC encounters. If you want your setting to live and breathe, though, it has to have a sense of existing long before the PCs come onto the scene, and long after they are gone. 

By this point we have quite a few elements to play with. Now we have to decide where they should go in the overall structure. 

A megadungeon has upper levels, middle levels, and lower levels. Without knowing exactly how many levels the dungeon has, we can divide the dungeon in this way. Thus, each of our elements can be found in one of these sections.

Where an element is found will affect its development. A major treasure located on an upper level must be very well hidden, or have a truly fearsome guardian, or it would have been plundered long ago. Likewise, a major monster located on an upper level must have some reason for not simply decimating everything within its grasp...including the PCs! A creature like Blott might be found on the upper levels, for instance, because it is more interested in satisfying its addiction than in eating people.

Some of the creatures and places we’ve already described belong on a particular tier (upper/middle/lower) of the dungeon on the basis of the development work we’ve done already. For instance, Filthfall Middens should be on the Middle Levels, where it can be accessed by many creatures (perhaps falling into the Lower Levels), and Bandit’s Roost should be in the Upper Levels.

Otherwise, we can roll 1d6, spreading these elements evenly throughout the dungeon. 

We should also consider how many entrances to develop. I would say, 4d6 to the Upper Levels, 2d6 to the Middle Levels, and 1d6 to the Lower Levels. Of these, most will be hidden and/or otherwise obscure. Discovery of a new way into/out of the dungeon can be a treasure itself!

There should be ways to move easily from the Upper Levels to the Middle Levels, and even to the Lower Levels.  Some levels and sublevels may well be "hidden" -- difficult to find. Likewise, if a primary level is spread out far enough, finding the ways out of it can be a fun challenge. What is important, though, is that once they are found they are relatively easy to use without slogging back and forth every time.

(In my AD&D 2e campaign, the Dungeon of Thale had one known entrance/exit, controlled as a business, where adventurers paid 10% of their take to use the gate. There were many other entrances, through the city sewers, in basements, through teleporters, etc., waiting for the PCs to discover so that they could avoid the toll!)

I am also considering a “Circvs Minimus”, where miniature animals and monsters were once displayed and sent to fight each other. Those animals are long gone now, and the Circvs is the home of trolls. Luckily, these trolls are too small to do much harm, although they are as loud and vocal as ordinary trolls (which might make PCs hearing them give them more heed than necessary). 
  • Amber Courtyard - Upper
  • Amulet - Lower
  • Angel of some sort (chained?) - Middle
  • Bandit’s Roost - Upper
  • Black Hall - Lower
  • Blothegrue - Upper
  • Blott - Upper
  • Bonestripper’s Guild - Middle
  • Burning Dome - Middle
  • Cerulean Well - Middle
  • Chamber of the Bronze Throne - Middle
  • Cinderqueen – Lower
  • Circvs Minimus – Upper 
  • Cistern of the Dun Waters - Lower
  • Cloudy Vault of Whispering Leopards - Lower
  • Copper Pool - Upper
  • Crimson Catacombs - Lower
  • Crown - Lower
  • Crypt of Red Markings - Upper
  • Crypt of Sleeping Dogs - Upper
  • Deep mudflats - Middle
  • Dripping Garden - Upper
  • Dwarf - Middle
  • Ebony Grotto - Middle
  • El Nysrith (anagram of Slytherin) - Upper
  • Elzamere - Middle
  • Etolkin (anagram of Tolkein) - Lower
  • Filthfall Middens – Middle 
  • Gathouse - Middle
  • Gem - Lower
  • Ghost - Upper
  • Golem - Upper
  • Green Lake - Lower
  • Grimalkin - Middle
  • Groaning Arch - Middle
  • Hall of the Bitter Banquet - Lower
  • Hellroot: Assassin Vine - Lower
  • Hoard - Upper
  • Hobert Warder - Lower
  • Human - Lower
  • Invisible Stalker - Upper
  • Kobold - Upper
  • Library of Bones - Middle
  • Like-Not - Lower
  • Mail - Upper
  • Malcaper Middle
  • Medusa - Lower
  • Monstrous Centipede - Upper
  • Moving Pool of Xar Yggar - Middle
  • Ny Sandu - Lower
  • Nymph - Upper
  • Ogrushrub - Middle
  • Orc - Lower
  • Owlgrin - Upper
  • Perfumed Machine of Sparkling Crystal - Middle
  • Pismire’s Yellow Fountain - Lower
  • Pool of Shadowed Vermin - Upper
  • Portersmith - Middle
  • Restful Chapel of St. Helmbright the Vigilant - Lower
  • Ring - Upper
  • River of Uncertain Dreams - Middle
  • Scarlet Gallery - Lower
  • Sea of Ivory Stones - Lower
  • Shield - Middle
  • Smoking Shrine of Ly Valle - Upper
  • Sour Temple - Upper
  • Sphinx - Upper
  • Spinning Chapel - Middle
  • Staff - Middle
  • Stone Giant - Lower
  • Sword - Lower
  • Tapestry of Winds - Upper
  • Tawny Altar of St. McCoy - Middle
  • Tome - Lower
  • Vampire - Upper
  • Verdant Caverns – Middle 
  • Vermillion-Handed Idol of Destiny - Lower
  • Wandering Library - Variable
  • Waterfall of Fearful Whispers - Middle

Looking at these, we can see that there will be some very dangerous areas even in the Upper Levels, so the PCs should probably have fair warning, say, about the location of the dragon’s lair.  There should also be plenty of "inactive" areas. After all, PCs need somewhere to rest, and you want the space to build up suspense.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I'm working on developing a megadungeon for my game Resolute, and your comments have been very helpful! I'm looking forward to reading more.

  2. Thank you for your comment! I'm pleased that this has been of some help.

  3. "I am also considering a “Circvs Minimus”, where miniature animals and monsters were once displayed and sent to fight each other. Those animals are long gone now, and the Circvs is the home of trolls. Luckily, these trolls are too small to do much harm, although they are as loud and vocal as ordinary trolls (which might make PCs hearing them give them more heed than necessary)."

    Heh. :) Squirrels, maybe?

  4. Think creatures from Lilliput.

    There were a lot of trolls coming across to EN World from Circvs Maximvs when I first wrote that. It was sort of tongue-in-cheek.

  5. I think I will steal the Parliament of Cats idea. Perfectly reinforces that classic image of the black cat and it's association of bad luck. Plus it ties into the Luck mechanic!


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