Tuesday, May 5, 2015

OPM - the problems running Other People's Megadungeons

OPM means Other People's Megadungeons.

There are not a huge amount of megadungeons out there, ready to play.

I think that beyond the logistical challenges of publishing a megadungeon, there is a deeper issue:

It is not easy to run someone else's megadungeon.

One reason Felltower is so easy for me is that I wrote it.

Bits on the map? I put them there. I can't run my dungeon without the maps, but I can picture the maps in my head. That's where they came from in the first place.

Factions? I made them up.

Room descriptions? I know what's supposed to be there.

Everything I have down on paper is a reminder. It's not new information. Even when there is a blank, I know what I was thinking when I wrote it and what would thematically fit. I don't need to roll on the "What does the faction do?" table. I know what they'd do. I might flip a coin to find out which option they choose out of two, but I know which two and why.

Contrast that with a published megadungeon. I've seen it with Erik trying to figure out what the heck something is intended to be during out own B-Team delves. You can see it with Jeffro having to puzzle over room descriptions in Dwimmermount. I've had it with reading Barrowmaze and Castle Zagyg to see what is in it. You need to become intimately familiar with someone else's work. Not only that, but they need to have written in a way that's accessible on a read-through, clearly communicates intent, and which is easy to use in actual play.

You get that with any published adventure or setting. But the scope of a megadungeon can make this so much harder. I've read Stonehell through a couple times, but I don't know it so well that I could run it without notes. I could run my megadungeon with just the maps, if I had to.

That's tough. It's a problem I don't have with my own megadungeon. And it might be yet another reason there aren't a plethora of them out there, why playthroughs of them don't seem to be very common, and why you can see a big of struggle from GMs running them even if they otherwise run games smoothly and easily.

It's the OPM problem. It's not yours, and it take a lot of effort to really own something that big.


  1. Generally speaking, OPMs work much better as video games.

    I'm currently running Ptolus, which is an Other People's Megacity - maybe less mappy and more factionny, but a reasonably similar situation.

    The first time I ran it in 2007, it didn't turn out so well, and I've always had time runnnig other people's settings anyways. For the reboot, I really made it mine - I looped text-to-speech chapters on my iPod, converted d20 to GURPS-ish, reworked the supplied Players' Guide, built a huge (private to me and players) reference wiki for it, and decorated the room with artwork of buildings and descriptive quotes, and then some more stuff. Basically,I made it mine in spurts over a period of seven years.

    Despite all this, I still don't have the degree of mastery you have, but I do feel rather at ease in it.

    So yeah, making your own is definitely tops, but it's *very* demanding on inspiration.

    1. It's true. Making your own is front-loading the misery. Easier in play, but much more to do before you start.

  2. I know that this sounds bad but I do not really like megadungeons. I prefer adventures that are shorter and can be solved. Megadungeons just go on and on.

    1. It's not bad, it's just kind off tangential to the topic.

    2. It depends on how you look at it. Shorter adventurers happen in the megadungeon. Just as they do in nooks and crannies in your world.

      Don't think of a megadungeon in terms of "I gotta get to the end boss and clear the game level!"- you will miss stuff (and your DM should be buttoning their lip about this or that thing you missed if they know what their doing), because you were never, ever going to clear it all, and that's okay!- but instead of a reliable source of gold, an adventure site the DM always has ready to go (ideally for any level), or possibly even a place that serves an ulterior function (such as a mode of transit between locations in a vast region where entrances to "the underworld" show up in the craziest of places, and knowledge about them is a valuable resource!). The megadungeon will learn to recognize your face. It will be annoyed to see you again.

      You don't fight every single monster. (Monster factions mean that they can potentially convince themselves that they have bigger fish to fry than you..) You ask whoever and whatever will listen to you questions about navigating the dungeon. And where the treasure is. (Megadungeons just aren't the same without GP=XP....)

      Lots of things "just go on and on" in the typical D&D world. The Abyss has literally infinite layers (whereas each layer is technically its own WORLD), which is way, way, the heck longer than anybody's megadungeon. Evil gods and immortal monsters have been around since long before the oldest elf in your party was born, and they probably will be there long after all of you die. Multiverses can't be "solved." Settings that support adventure without it being in shallow fits and starts every hundred generations when there are some PCs for the universe to revolve around cannot be "cleared out."

      But, the practical reason for having a megadungeon is: Its like playing catch. Once you have it, you can run it whenever. You can use it as a backdrop to teach new players. You can do a western marches sandbox with an absurd number of players with multiple characters of differing levels each, and therefore not care who doesn't show up if the PCs start the game in town.

      Its not everything, and it requires foreknowledge of what it is, and is not, but it can create a campaign where the players spend as little time as possible NOT playing the game.

    3. I think megadungeons make more sense in the context of an "old school" campaign, where you don't have the same 5 players exploring the dungeon every week. You have 10 or 20 players, and some of them show up week A and some show up week B, and each group is different and experiencing and exploring things independently and when those groups mix and match and you start to cross-pollinate with other players' knowledge of the dungeon, you start to unlock the mystery and secrets. That's when a megadungeon - or any sandbox for that matter - really shines.

  3. I have to admit a nice effect of modelling dungeons in Minecraft is that you get a genuine feel for what it is like to move through the space. But an interesting side-efffect of this is that it also readily shows the inappropriate flaws in a dungeon. As in, only the most deranged chaos cultist would have put this room here - it's actually much more suitable for something else.

    Really badly designed megadungeons show a lot of this architectural inappropriateness, and you fins yourself embellishing the dungeon to work out why this would be here in the first place (or simply changing it).

    The good ones though, they just flow naturally.

    1. I make no claims that mine flows naturally, or makes 100% sense. But it works well enough, and it's not hard for me to run it.

  4. I agree with you on this one Peter. I've got a handful of mega dungeons and I've only run one of them. And even then I changed a lot of stuff. When you have that mass amount of material and if its inter dependent, that makes it very difficult just to grab and play.

    1. Yes, the interdependency is really what can trip you up. It's a tough job, writing an effective megadungeon for other people to use. Mine is vastly easier because I only need to write down what I might forget. So much less to digest, because it's made out of stuff I digested already. I still steal bits shamelessly from other people, though. :)

  5. I think a published mega-dungeon should basically come with the keys included, so to speak. You come into the picture as referee, look around (read the descriptions and whatnot), and now you own the place. It's yours. You run it as such. You modify here and there, use one level here or there, play a couple of games, factions are switched around, this or that NPC gets killed, and all that. What I am trying to say here is that the dungeon really should be though of as yours, and the person presenting it to you should have that in mind in the first place. So you can present a dungeon in a default way or some kind of snapshot in time, but as soon as you start running it you should be firmly in control and use your imagination however you see fit. It's not "wrong" to do so -- it's pretty much the best way you could go about it from a published base. The presentation of the thing itself can help, or impair that process. If it impairs it, there's room for improvement.

  6. Thank god it's not just me. I've been looking at a few published megadungeons and trying to mimic what they do, and it just doesn't work. Most of my thoughts have been on ways to present things for ease of use at the table, and the logistics of the space behind the DM screen defeat me every time.

  7. I will say that out of the batch I own; Stonehell, Tower of the Mad Archmage, Undermountain, Castle Triskelon, that Dwimmermount, while seriously different in its interpretations of the standard tropes, is one of the smoothest functioning I have read. My Northport is my baby, and I could almost run it on the fly, but that one doesn't take much past an initial read. On the other hand, it is over four hundred pages long.


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