Wednesday, May 31, 2017

More thoughts on megadungeons

Wayne R over at Initiative One is making his own megadungeon.

Why Build a Megadungeon in 2017?

I understand the pull - both from an open table and/or pick-up campaign perspective, and from a general GM prep perspective. I said as much there, and in the past, why I think megadungeons are good for a low-pre-session prep game (once the dungeon is "done" enough to play) and why I think it's easier to run your own.

This isn't news for anyone who's read my blog for a while or browsed my page of megadungeon articles and links.

I think making your own megadungeon is rewarding. If your players are game to try, and especially if they're game for focusing on what megadungeons do well (repeated delves, exploration, weirdness, ease of getting to the killing-and-looting, etc.) and not what they don't, it can be fun. I think it's more fun than it looks from the outside, as well. It's easy to dismiss megadungeons as impossible or not-fun without trying them. And it's hard to just give your own megadungeon a shot for 2-3 sessions just because of the sheer scale of prep - once you start one, you're committed for a while or you've sunk a lot of costs.

But once it's going and people are enjoying it, it's very satisfying and interesting. The game system doesn't matter as much as you might think - I'm running Felltower in GURPS, and I'm not sure anyone else is doing so (maybe even, has done so.) Systems like original D&D and B/X D&D and AD&D 1st edition are packed with tools that assume a megadungeon. Clearly 5th edition D&D needs fewer monsters per PC but can handle big dungeons, so why not megadungeons?

By the way, this is no knock on existing megadungeons. If you can digest someone else's dungeon faster and easier than you can write your own, that'll be faster prep. You'll have name recognition and that pride of dealing with a known dungeon, too (my players are justly proud of having bested White Plume Mountain.) And other people's megadungeons are a great source of material to raid for your own.


  1. After prepping and running a kilo-dungeon for a while, going back to the prep of episodic games is frustrating. In a large dungeon, you just need to keep ahead of the PCs' exploration, and the prep from unexplored paths is always available. If you get a bit ahead, you can coast through any periods of low creativity.

    In an episodic game, I'm finding I need to come up with a new idea every week or so. It's easier to get burnt out because if you hit a creative wall, you still have to run the weekly game even without any inspiration.

    If I didn't like my current game so much, I'd be pushing to go back to the kilo-dungeon. So much easier!

    1. I've never understood the whole "prepping for games is hard" thing.

      But then I'm a fly-by-seat-of-my-pants wing-it type of GM... so... it's just a thing I'll never understand.

      To me a mega-dungeon //requires// prep, lot's of it. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more than I'd ever do for any campaign I've run.*

      * I have a folder on my shelf that I add to every years or so of a mega-campaign map/world I've been doodling on for over 20 years, so I'm not completely free of the "design a massive campaign world" bug. But I've never run it and probably won't, it's too "locked down" at this point for my taste.

      But most campaigns are a map (fairly vague one), a set of towns/cities, the races/orgs, and a purpose. Or just google earth and a campaign premise for my modern sci-fi/post apoc games.

    2. Well, obviously no-prep will always beat some-prep, no matter how much or little it amounts to.

      I get Mark on this - it's easier for me to write all of my good ideas down in one big dungeon, knowing they'll get to them eventually and I can develop the accessible areas first. It's harder for me to ensure I have time and inspiration before every session. So I choose to load all of that inspiration up into a single location!

    3. I don't know. Maybe one of you "preppers" can write a post explaining why you prep? I think that's the big issue for me, I don't see the need to prep. I know the system, I know the players (usually), I know the plot, and I know world*.

      From there it all just comes together.

      * From the humble initial premise the world develops as the players encounter it... sort of like a procedurally generated video game (say like Minecraft). The next area crops up when the PCs start getting close enough that they might wander into it. If they do encounter that content, I make a note post game, the map gets filled in (so to speak, but sometimes literally). If they don't, well, okay. Not a worry. In fact ti might change by the time they get back around to that 'area' in the campaign in the future.

      I do know people who like to prep. Used to drive my co- and assistant GMs crazy in the LARPs I ran as they almost seemed to /pathologically/ need to nail down every detail as far in advance as possible and it drove them up the walls that I didn't have answers to questions like "Why is this happening? Why is the Villain doing X?" and my answer was "I don't know yet, no Character has come close to needing that answered".

      It also drove me a bit nuts to have them constantly trying to stake out every possible direction the PCs could go. Like, seriously "No Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy", so let's not get too bogged down the details that we can't just change course.

      "write all of my good ideas down"

      But what if you get another good idea after you've collapsed the waveform* on your megadungoen? Does it just go into a folder for the next grand campaign? Do you rewrite an unexplored portion of the dungeon? Or the idea lost into the ether?


    4. Honest question, are you for real?

      Why have scripted movies, novels, rehearsed plays, speeches or anything prepared in advance?

      Improvisation is tremendously important, especially in RPGs, that doesn't then flip over and say it's all that's important.

    5. I prep because:

      - I don't have all of my good ideas right before I need them.

      - I don't have all of my maps, handouts, enemy stats, spell lists, loot writeups, etc. in my head or at hand without getting them ready.

      So that works for me. And if I think of a better idea later, I just put it in somewhere else. Or put a gate to it. It's not a big deal in a dungeon of undefined extent set in a world of miraculous magic.

    6. "- I don't have all of my maps, handouts, enemy stats, spell lists, loot writeups, etc. in my head or at hand without getting them ready."

      I don't really count that as "prep" (yeah, I know, it's "prepping for game", but it's no more than I do as a Player, I make sure I have my supplies: character sheet, pens, pencil, eraser, paper, dice, notes, maps, etc, extremely high self regard for being prepared and the ability to look down my nose at the dirty unwashed plebs who show up without pencil or paper. Those unshriven heathens).

      I keep a folder with all my notes, maps, etc and everything (not dice, pens, etc) goes into it after game and it goes into The Gaming Bag (along with dice, pens, etc) and always comes to game with me.

      These days I've gone a bit more high tech and a lot of that stuff is on The Thumbdrive (which gets backed up to the compy and cloud after game), but otherwise (until I get a lappytron or tablet) that's about it.

      "- I don't have all of my good ideas right before I need them."

      Okay. I can grok that. I don't always get good ideas whilst sitting at the table either. But I found (and still find) the ideas I come up with in advance don't fit well with what the Players want to do, or require so much change at the table as to be a case of "why did I stat this stuff up?". That's why I started (and continue) to wing it (though I'm almost always thinking about past and upcoming games between sessions in my free time (weighing options, considering variable, etc, I just don't write it down*).

      * Guess this counts as prep? Paybe? I just discount it because it literally takes no work on my part aside from remembering it, which is easy for me.

    7. That's the bulk of what I do as prep, honestly. You're just improvising some elements that, in a dungeon-based game, I can't.

    8. I do the prep I do because I run games like a jazz player: inspired improvisation around a loose skeleton.

      So when the PCs responded to the pirate attack by surrendering, handing over one of their own to the pirates to secure their passage, and then breaking the deal halfway through, I didn't expect any of that but I could handle it because I had the pirate stats and whatnot.

      I'm not writing out elaborate scripts or planning months in advance (beyond "that's a good idea I should note so I remember in a few months when it could come up"). But I like to have a range of options available and if I expect there's going to be a setpiece map I put that together.

      But some weeks, my ideas are bad and the players are uninspired. I don't have anything to offer them and they don't have anything they really want to do and the session isn't very good. Which wasn't as much of a problem in the kilo-dungeon because I had saved up all my good ideas and there was always another path the PCs could try.

      Also, we play online, and even drawing an unclear map takes a fair bit of time. I try to draw better maps in advance so as to not stall the game. Not using maps isn't viable - people get way too confused.

      You say you show up with maps and stats - isn't creating all that prep work for you?

    9. "You say you show up with maps and stats - isn't creating all that prep work for you?"

      "all that"? I make a map. If it's a fantasy game*, it's generally pretty vague, for example:

      All that's missing are the city, town, and river names I scrawled on my and the Player's printed out versions.

      If it's modern there's google earth. No I generally don't bother printing out g-earth maps (because I've got a crappy printer, otherwise I might).

      * I don't think I've ever made a map (in advance) for any sci-if games I've ever run. Just fantasy and post-apoc. By "in advance" I mean I'll doodle a quick combat reference map if the Players really need it, but I don't run tactical combat so i don't need combat maps.

      Stats? Don't bother. I use my B.A.D. breakdown*. Or I wing it. If necessary (the foes survives, NPC might be recurring, etc) I make a note of the name, 4 word description, whatever stats or skills are extraordinary and that's it.

      * Mooks have stats and skills of 10.
      Lieutenants are 12s.
      Captains get 14s.
      BBEGs get 16s.

      If they have a name they might have a breakout skill or two that are 2-4 points higher.

      Then they all get the B.A.D. bonus.

      I know what the racial adjustments are and have a few premade quick refernce sheets of ST+weapon damages done (and ACC and ranges and etc - the basics). I reuse those.

      Before B.A.D. (in the bad old days of 3e) I used the above numbers +2.

      It only gets "complicated" when I'm using vanilla Magic, then I actually need to list out spells. Consequently I haven't used vanilla Magic at all in 4e. I ran modern and post-apoc up till Monster Hunters came out, then I ran a Gamma World\Fantasy campaign using RPM.

      So really, my pre-campaign prep is, at most, a map, a premise, and a bunch of thinking about the game (and writing up races if there are races*). My pre-game prep is just thinking about game and bringing my bag.

      Sure, I can accept that I did probably about a megadungeon worth of prep ages ago coming up with my quick reference sheets and such (it's a 20 page folder), but I'm not doing that prep again for every game and it's generically reusable.

      * Also sometimes "odd tech" or weapons if they deviate from GURPS RAW. But again, that's //campaign// prep, and it's usually pretty short.

  2. I do mini dungeons that dot the countryside. It's a similar concept.

    1. Any issues with needing to have, say, lots of dungeons done ahead of time in case they pick one over another?

  3. Good post.

    Work on my mega dungeon continues.

    I was using real life maps to base off, but I'm actually finding hand drawing an A4 cluster of rooms goes faster and gets the job done.

    Would you be able to do a post on stocking your dungeon? Filling rooms quickly, but well has been an issue for me.

    1. Sure, I'll get a post up about that soon.

  4. I've been running Rappan Athuk (off the Pathfinder version) in GURPs. Inspired by your blogging on Felltower actually. It is a lot of fun. I knew my players were starting to grok both GURPS and megadungeons when they all bought Luck.... :)

    1. Always buy a do-over. :)

      I'm glad I've provided some inspiration for gaming!

  5. Closest recent post that I could find.

    It's not Chessex, but these mats might be of interest to you and other GURPS mega dungeon GMs. Now with hex grid available

    BattleMats: RPG Encounter Mats for Table Top Roleplaying, via @Kickstarter


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