Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Super Dungeons in Pyramid 3/50 - Dungeon Fantasy II

The new issue of Pyramid, Pyramid #3/50 - Dungeon Fantasy II, is up and for sale.

There is an article I found especially interesting in light of my own megadungeon-based DF game:

Super Dungeons, by David Pulver.

What is a super dungeon? According to the author:

"One of the earliest dungeons I created for GURPS was a "super dungeon" - a complex that was dispersed across several miles of underground passages."

Readers familiar with Beedo's Black City will be instantly reminded of it reading this article. Or it'll bring to mind the underground tunnels of D1-2, and it's at least peripherally similar to the separated cities of Thorbardin. I also thought of the best part of Skyrim (to me, anyway) - Blackreach.

It's contrasted with the mega-dungeon - those huge multi-level singular locations under giant castles and such that I'm so fond of.

Why I liked it:

- it nicely breaks out a term for those big sprawling megadungeons. Because, really, there is a big difference between my 8+ levels (so far) layer cake of dungeon levels and the underearth of D1-2.

- it makes the point that the separated encounter areas could be anything from a single "room" all the way up to full-sized dungeons. As much as I like my megadungeon, I think this is a serious advantage to a super-dungeon: you can stick anything in there somewhere, and it's easier to justify a giant cavern of fungus-men or a dragon's lair or a dwarf city if they didn't have to live right next door to the orcs or the water realm or that weird labyrinth level of teleporters you wrote up. I kind of regret not sprawling out my dungeon even more.

- it's got a ruling on fatigue costs for slogging through underground tunnels over long distances. It doesn't assume a D1-2 style "primary passage" approach where you can have mules and wagons and pack lizards wandering around. That's easy - but if you're slogging through giant worm-dug tunnels or that passage left by a tunneling monster or an old natural shaft, it's not likely to be smooth sailing. It'll be stressful and tiring if you travel carefully enough to make it not immediately dangerous. Combine a slow travel rate with exhaustion and no ease of return, and you'll change from "15 minute adventure day" to "dangerous slog and resource management issues" campaign immediately.

- it's got a ruling on how many miles per hour you can travel based on your Move score. Handy and easy. Combine that with spread out encounters and exhausting travel, and you have a real issue of "how do we get to the treasure-filled rooms without being too tired to fight?"

- It comes with a sample super dungeon, with a full key for it. It's nice, it's short (but big), and it's got a nice background that makes its encounters effective and internally logical. As a super-dungeon, it's easy to expand.

All in all, very nice. I just wish the general advice section was longer!

The rest of the magazine is good, especially the stuff I wrote (heh). But even just this article made it well worth reading. If you're going to run big wilderness-sized dungeons, especially with GURPS, this is a very cool read.


  1. Excellent! That was the article that really grabbed my attention in that issue, but the ad copy wasn't really descriptive of what was going on there, so I just kinda let it slide. I'll have to pick up a copy.

  2. You've just convinced me to buy this, when I have the coin.

  3. I hope you guys enjoy the whole issue!

  4. Thanks for your review, Peter! I'm glad the terminology worked for you.

    The dungeon slog: that is the fun for me! The most entertaining part of running this type of dungeon in GURPS rather than D&D is the ability to use the more detailed food, water, fatigue, and encumbrance rules to dramatic effect, and doing things like having characters sleep overnight in the dungeon. I always thought that worked nicely in the Fellowship of the Rings in Moria, and while Moria is perhaps more of a enormous megadungeon than a superdungeon, that is the effect I wanted. It changes the way resource management works; more incentive to rest and recover fatigue for casting spells, and may even get a bit of healing, but, especially if wandering encounters are used, a heightened risk of attack and (unless advantages to the contrary) a need to sleep in watches, or use appropriate warning magic.

    With a long passage, wandering encounters can be interesting.
    I would have liked to have the time and space to treat noise and vision in more detail. I briefly mentioned the role of long, non-twisty passages, but it's important to note that "indoors" you could possibly hear big creatures or loud, armor-clanking marchers walking on stone from several hundred yards before you can see them - or see lights moving without making out details, if they have torches. Which could also lead to interesting "blind" pursuits through the darkness as one party tries to catch or elude another, without knowing what they are after. This could encourage the use of some spells like Wizard Eye, etc. especially as the distance allows extra prep time for casting. Or retreating and then setting up an ambush..

    If both sides are carrying lanterns or torches, or have certain vision advantages or spells, a long passage also allows rather long range missile engagement. I'd probably limit it to 1/2D range as you can't get a ballistic trajectory in a passage with a 6-12' ceiling, but it might be possible to engage from hundreds of yards, which is rare in a normal or megadungeon. Even a "recon by fire" with some of the longer range missile spells might work, e.g., throw an explosive fire ball not so much for damage as to illuminate what is following you for a brief instant...

    1. David wrote:

      "The most entertaining part of running this type of dungeon in GURPS rather than D&D is the ability to use the more detailed food, water, fatigue, and encumbrance rules to dramatic effect, . . .It changes the way resource management works; more incentive to rest and recover fatigue for casting spells, and may even get a bit of healing, "

      Out of curiosity, did you read/enjoy The Last Gasp from Pyramid #3/44? The fatigue management issues you refer to would be even nastier."

    2. @David: It would have been nice if you could have squeezed that stuff in. My players have mostly given up on sneaking because they realize how well sound carries in a tunnel, and that people can see their light before they can see with that light.

      I have some more spread-out areas in my megadungeon, and it may connect to other dungeon complexes. But I think I need to throw in some really big areas, just to take advantage of the stuff you've described.

      @Ballistic: Is there nothing your articles or upcoming books don't address? I'm beginning to think the answer is "No." ;)

    3. Well, my writing is slow enough that I only can afford to hit the stuff I really want to see. :-)

      The fatigue/action points article was an awful lot of fun, though. It's admittedly too fiddly for some kinds of game, but with the right choices in what switches, I think it really adds to narrative. I know a few people on the forums have adopted it.

      The "upcoming book" thing is funny. I wish I could just ignore some of the forum threads that refer to grappling, grabbing, etc. with the sure knowledge that in [CENSORED] amount of time, TG will come out and then I can start getting the "you ruined GURPS" emails. But with the Big Damn Ogre in the way of all but Pyramid, well, I can't help but leak here and there. "You can't keep this much raw Vikingness contained," says Hiccup.

    4. It was hard with GURPS Martial Arts, too. And as someone who has read TG, it's nice to know it's coming. It fills in some gaps we didn't realize we'd left when MA was written.

    5. Yeah, the fatigue rules from Last Gasp would work well with it!

  5. I liked the article and it makes more sence to have dungeons connected together through some long passages rather than stacked one on top of the other. I would think dwarves would be perfect for this. They might have cities and mining centers spread out across large distances and when these cities and mining centers are taken over by monsters it provides a lot of rooms to explore and also all of the treasure that the dwarves once had would be there hoarded by monsters.

    1. Yeah, that's why Thorbardin was sure a natural parallel. Super-dungeons also describe the layers of ruins and tubeway tunnels beneath Tekumel.


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