Monday, 11 July 2011

M is for Megadungeons (Part IV)

City Ruins?

It may seem odd to some that this megadungeon project begins above the surface, in a ruined city.  The classic megadungeon is below the ruins of a castle, in a giant skull-shaped mountain, or something like that.  This megadungeon happens to intersect with, and be built beneath, the ruins of a city.

Where a megadungeon is located will have a (potentially) profound effect on its structure.  I have run megadungeons located beneath a bustling urban metropolis (the Dungeon of Thale…similar in some ways to Undermountain in The Forgotten Realms), megadungeons modeled off the MERP versions of Goblingate and Moria, and even a “Wandering Dungeon” that spans many planes.

Pattern Mapping – Stage One

It may be imagined that, once the basic elements are decided on, the GM should simply begin mapping the project on whatever scale seems convenient. On larger projects, however, it is often useful to begin with a “pattern map”; that is, a plan of the pattern by which the whole will be mapped.

In our particular case, we have already decided that many of the upper underground ways will, in fact, be the sunken and collapsed streets of our ruin. Therefore, it would help us greatly to have at least some general parameters of that ruin in mind.

What I have done is made a quick sketch of the River Ynde and the outlines of the ruin. I then placed the major locations which would be visible from the surface of the ruins. The attached pdf file contains this sketch.

You will notice immediately that even getting this far meant the inclusion of new features. The boundary of the town implies the possibility of a wall (and towers?). I have added the location of the main Market, a Ruined Keep, an Island, Old Wharves, and the so-called Lesser Ruins on the south side of the River Ynde.


This provides an area that is largely free of buildings and debris, and thus is open to rife plant growth. We will place one or more entrances to the lower levels here, as the result of subsidence. In effect, at least part of the Market will be an area of uneven footing, deeply rooted trees, slopes, and yawning “cave” mouths. Should be fun.

Ruined Keep

An obvious landmark, the Ruined Keep will be on a rise of land, looming over the remainders of the ruins. Flying predators, such as Esbastus, are likely to lair here, especially in the upper towers (where and if they are stable). The dungeons of the keep provide their own sublevel(s), above (but connected to) the first underground level of the ruin proper. Because of its fortified position, the Ruined Keep has become the lair of fairly tough monsters.


Everyone loves fishmen, and where better to hide their secret base than in tunnels beneath an island?

Old Wharves

Everyone loves fishmen, and where better for them to expand their secret base than in tunnels beneath some old wharves? Of course, it is likely that wererats or other ratmen were here before the fishmen, and may resent the intrusion. Smells like a faction war to me.

Lesser Ruins

Another fishman enclave, some animals, and a few monsters from the surrounding woods make this portion of the ruin interesting, but it is decidedly less dangerous than the main ruin. Thus, the Lesser Ruins are a good place for new players/characters to “cut their teeth” (as it were). Still, even an “easy” region wants for some looming danger, so we will add the Bloody Door, beyond which lies a passage straight down into a very difficult sub-level.

What's With the Lousy Cartography?!?!

The first sketchmap, above, is pretty sketchy.  That's okay; this is a "planning map", not a "playing map".  Playing maps will look considerably better (although they will still look like I drew them -- as I will have drawn them).

What we are doing now is akin to the "side view" maps of dungeons in some of the TSR-D&D books -- we are exploring the relationships between areas that must be mapped, rather than producing actual in-play maps.

Speaking of those "side view" maps, you know what I really liked? When there was a chasm with a really big spider in it on those maps.  Therefore, we shall include some form of chasm with a really big spider in it.

Locations of some features should make sense within the whole, and the layout of the streets followed from where boats could dock, where the Keep would naturally be, and where the biggest Market (largely determined by the location of gates, wharves, etc.) would be.  Basically, streets radiate out from these points.

The Dripping Garden has to be near the Amber Courtyard due to its backstory, but the old streets need not follow the course the Dripping Garden now runs along.

Pattern Mapping – Stage Two

The goal here is to give a general layout of primary, secondary, and tertiary streets to facilitate mapping.

Once the old streets are mapped, the location of features in the first underground level can also be placed, as these should follow "street logic" in some way. After that, we will place the rough locations of items on the second underground level.

After that, the work forks into two parts: (1) Determining what is happening in the Middle Levels and (2) Mapping the Upper Levels.

These accomplished, we can begin placing encounters in the Upper Levels, devising Wandering Encounter charts, and get the region ready for actual play.

Thereafter, the Middle Levels get pattern mapped, and we go through the process of fleshing them out while deciding exactly what is in the Lower Levels.

The Middle Levels then get mapped while the Lower Levels are pattern mapped. The Middle Levels get encounters, the Lower Levels get mapped, and (finally) the Lower Levels get encounters.

By the time all of this is done, the Upper Levels may have been "in play" for a year or more.

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