Mega Dungeons

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Cronono
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Mega Dungeons

Does anyone have a favorite mega-dungeon, such as Rappan Athuk or Castle Greyhawk or the like?

MinusInnocence
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Not a tabletop adventure, but I have always loved the Diablo series of video games. January of each year since Diablo III was released, they have had a special event called "The Darkening of Tristram" where you can go through a portal and basically replay the first game using D3 graphics and characters. It's REALLY FUN and a blast from the past - the original Diablo game was basically 15 or 16 levels of the same dungeon crawl. And as per all mega dungeons, the emphasis was on hacking, slashing and looting. So much loot.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

Cronono
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That's so funny. I was actually thinking of working on a Diablo inspired Mega-Dungeon for 5e and that prompted this line of inquiry. I was trying to figure out if there was a way to replace the "rest" economy of 5e with some sort of "level heal" like in Diablo and thought a mega-dungeon would be an interesting way to play with that.

Talanall
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I've never played through a mega-dungeon of any sort, although I certainly have been exposed to the idea of them because of a past history of playing in the Forgotten Realms setting, where Undermountain, Castle Spulzeer, etc. are bywords. It's just that by a quirk of my DMs' choices, I haven't played in the really big ones. They tended to generate smaller ones of their own.

I've always been curious, though, and there's a pretty good chance that the PCs will end up in a mega-dungeon in at least one of the campaigns I'm currently running.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Cronono
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I may have to run a mega-dungeon. In the transition material from 4e to 5e, there was an extremely large dungeon called the Doomvault as part of the Dead in Thay adventure. I've run part of the Doomvault and it seems really neat but isn't really coherent to me. I'd like to see a mega-dungeon that is coherent but isn't boring.

Talanall
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I struggle with the concept of a dungeon, pretty much for this reason. When a dungeon is so large that exploring it is an affair that might take many days and involve trying to sleep inside of it, the idea that the whole thing is really controlled by a single faction is really difficult to sell.

But if you take up the idea that there are multiple factions, then you have to have some explanation for what they're all doing in there, and how they obtain the necessities of life, and so on and so forth. That's also pretty difficult to manage, because there are so many moving parts, and it's kind of easy to have a plot hole related to that kind of thing. I really have trouble with "the Underdark" as a fantasy RPG staple for this same reason. My observation has been that game materials just apply magic as liberally as necessary to explain how cities of thousands of people can exist a mile beneath the surface of the earth.

Without having played or been a DM for a game that featured one, I cannot say for certain, but I feel as if the "fourth wall" must be unusually prominent in really large dungeons. It seems to me that this must be less of an issue in smaller dungeons that have a clear reason for existing (bandit camp, dragon's lair, forgotten tomb, etc.). After all, the genesis of D&D was that Gygax was running a wargame scenario that involved infiltrating a castle through its disused escape tunnels, and it was popular enough with his players that he was asked to repeat it.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking
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There's some lack of clarity in the term regarding when a dungeon becomes a megadungeon. In every edition of D&D there have been lost cities of various stripes that are now populated by different factions; some of them are even below ground. If it is a site that typically requires 7+ days to explore/defeat, I think there are quite a few of them - even the Forge of Fury might qualify.

As far as how people survive, I think that science is friendlier to those questions today than it might have been in the 70s. Extremophiles are better understood than they were, and the possibility of converting inorganic chemicals into substances people could survive on are better understood. As typically portrayed - moss, rats and mushrooms - maybe not, but a volcanic heat source providing energy for a vat of some yeasty like substance - sure that's possible even without magic.

I think the major issue with megadungeons is empty space. If you're exploring a lost city, you'd expect most buildings to be empty. The giant Spinosaurus aegyptiacus that lairs in one of the partially collapsed buildings is going to keep the prey species in check; spending days exploring empty room after empty room is boring - a smaller, more focused dungeon, usually scratches the itch.

Darker

Funny you should mention it. I have the D&D/Diablo sourcebooks which included adventures to mirror the dungeon crawls and quests in Diablo I. I think I have To Hell and Back as well, which was the first four of Diablo II's acts as adventures.

Cronono
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What edition are those in?

Darker

If I remember right, the first one (The Awakening) is 2nd edition and Diablerie and To Hell and Back is d20.

And for some real fun, they also wrote up the Secret Cow Level. You can see it here:
http://download.phx.pl/diablo/books/dungeons_and_dragons/moomoo.pdf

MinusInnocence
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I had all of those. Great stuff - even rolling random loot placement using the magic item system from Diablo was fun. The menagerie of enemies from that series is also top shelf stuff.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

Fixxxer
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With the possible but tenuous exception of Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, I've never really played through a megadungeon in a tabletop game. But I cut my fantasy teeth on the Wizardry game series, which is literally nothing but a giant megadungeon. Over the years, I've often wondered how the map for Wizardry might be applied to a tabletop game without it being a grind.

Talanall
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The grind-y nature of dungeon crawls is one of the reasons that it has taken me so long to get around to running something along those lines. It's not just a grind for the players, either; they are really labor-intensive to build.

Thus far, my take on it has been that it's easier if you build your dungeon as a site that was created with a clear purpose in mind, and are prepared to think about how the space was repurposed as the original creators passed on and it was taken over by others. Even with that in mind, I find it difficult to look at stuff like the Underdark from the Forgotten Realms setting and take seriously the proposition that there are just thousands upon thousands of miles of caverns under the earth.

I don't think it's tipping my hand too much if I remark that one of the reasons why the Tolrea setting includes a Spirit World that is (under the right circumstances) seamless with the Material Plane is that I wanted to explore this idea that the "Underdark" is not just a cavern, but a whole other world in its own right.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking
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I think planar 'bleed' is a good thing, but endless caves don't bother me much. Mammoth cave has more than 400 miles of explored caverns and that was just water action. Creatures that burrow through solid rock don't exist here. In a fantasy world, if you start with 'I think this would be cool' and then think about what it would take to get there, you can do some fun stuff.

Talanall
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Creatures that burrow through solid rock don't really exist in D&D, either. There are only a couple of notable exceptions to this statement. There's the delver (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/delver.htm). There's the beholder, which is only valid if you are playing a WotC setting, because that is product identity.

That's it.

Cavern complexes like Mammoth Cave make sense, if the geology is right for them. But as big as Mammoth Cave is, it is not endless. Interconnecting them into an effectively endless underground world does not, because it relies on the proposition that sedimentary rock will always exist under conditions that allow for water action to form caverns, that water action always WILL form caverns, and that these caverns will nearly always link up with the handful of mechanisms that allow igneous rock to form caverns—magma tubes, and the like. If the Underdark is primarily a natural occurrence, then it is the result of coincidence piled upon coincidence in a fashion that does not bear even a passing relationship with how the natural world behaves in our day-to-day life.

Now, it's true that D&D games are set in magical worlds, but it's important to keep in mind that despite their magical nature, D&D settings also cling to the proposition that Newtonian physics and chemistry work more or less the way they do in the real world. By convention, supernatural forces are an intervention into an otherwise naturalistic world. The further you depart from that convention, the more heavy lifting you have to do as a DM/world builder.

Furthermore, inhabiting the Underdark with civilizations is troublesome unless you go to extreme lengths to remove the necessity of having food, potable water, fuel sources for light and heat, and similar necessities imported from the surface world. Can you rely on "they eat fungi" for this set of questions? Sure. Are they also using fungi as a source of fuel? Fibers? Lighting? And what is the FUNGUS eating?

Sure, there are extremophile creatures in the real world. But they live in very delicate ecosystems, and this is true even in cases where bacteria are effectively eating minerals in hot water, and then being eaten in turn by algae, fungi, tiny plankton, and then on up the food chain to fish and insects.

So if you decide to have an inhabited Underdark, you end up being in a position where you must rely on the application of delvers, possibly beholders, and/or magic. Lots and lots of magic. If you go with the "lots and lots of magic" approach, then you have to explain who expended lots and lots of magic, and WHY they would do this. It starts a chain of causation that has to trace back quite a long way.

I've never heard an explanation for an "Underdark" terrain that didn't sound illogical and contrived.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Cronono
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Also, Purple Worms. https://roll20.net/compendium/dnd5e/Purple%20Worm#content

I'm not a huge fan of the Underdark either, but I'd be interested in a way to make it work.

Talanall
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Purple worms can't burrow through solid rock in the 3.x rule set. Interesting that 5th edition changed that.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Cronono
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There is a 5e adventure called Out of the Abyss. It's almost entirely played in the Underdark and the involvement of Purple Worms in the Underdark ecology plays a role in the campaign.

MinusInnocence
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The Underdark as it exists in a setting like Faerûn or even in Damark, where 2EE takes place, is extremely problematic for all the reasons Ed outlined here. We're talking primarily about verisimilitude as a policy of campaign construction: if something about your setting differs from the way stuff works in real life, it bears increasing levels of scrutiny from players. So it has to make its own kind of sense. If "the Underdark" or "Night Below" is just a catch-all phrase for any really, really, really deep and expansive subterranea environment; such that no one has ever plumbed its depths and mapped the place in its entirety, so no one really knows how big it is; and, because no one knows, it is more than possible that there are actually countless cave networks all identified by the same label, even if they aren't all connected; that makes a certain kind of sense. If places like Mammoth Cave or the Mariana Trench are extremely common in a fantasy setting, it would be weird as compared to our world but would make a lot of sense for the people who live in that setting (at least the ones who live on the surface) to assume that they are all one big tunnel network. People may even assume as much as established "science" for their world, and balk at any other possible explanation.

The problem of settling the question is compounded if races native to the Underdark often employ science or technology to facilitate travel over vast distances; it is usually described as a very dangerous place, so this makes a great deal of sense. Maybe it is routine for people to just bounce around from one relatively well-known, stable and safe region to another and avoid the "dark parts" of the map as much as psosible. Even Drow, Illithid or Aboleth might assume the Underdark is all one big place instead of nearly infinite smaller cave networks; or at least, they would think that explanation is as good as any other, and not be very interested in researching the topic to prove their hypothesis.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

Fixxxer
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I didn't include an Underdark in the Eckor setting. I don't specifically dislike the idea of such a setting, but I got burned very early on in my D&D exploration by a series of Drizzt Do'Urden fanboys that saw drow the same way that Tolkien saw elves, and it has made me a bit hesitant. I don't mind the concept, but were I to ever include such a place, rather than being a world in and of itself, it would be more like what Mike describes, a series of large caverns, natural and otherwise, that might or might be connected and are large and expansive enough that most surface-dwellers would never have mapped them out entirely.

My idea of an Underdark setting is less that of empires of subrace elves, dwarves and gnomes and closer to something like the movie The Descent, with creatures like grimlocks.

Cronono
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Have you guys checked out Khyber in Eberron? I find that to be much more palatable.

Talanall
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I have. Khyber is perhaps the exception that proves the rule, in my opinion. It is a prison for certain kinds of monstrosities. Sometimes they get out through tunnels of various kinds, and this leads to trouble that may bring the place to the attention of adventurers. Notably, Khyber is not entirely natural; it is an example of the "lots and lots of magic" principle at work, and there is a pressing, clearly articulable reason why lots and lots of magic was expended to create the place.

The debut of the Eberron setting was extremely exciting for me because it was the first case in which I had ever encountered a campaign setting that clearly had been designed by someone who thought about and was bothered by all the same little questions and inconsistencies that niggle at me in the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk settings in particular, and in the "generic high fantasy" milieu in general.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Cronono
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Somebody should run an Eberron game. I'd run one in 5e but none of you jackasses would play.

MinusInnocence
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I have already completed a significant amount of the legwork necessary to convert the ECS campaign-specific material from v3.5 to Pathfinder. I was in the middle of planning a really expansive Eberron campaign when I moved three years ago.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

Cronono
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The second draft of Artificer for 5e is supposed to be published in this month's Unearthed Arcana. What did you do for Artificers in Pathfinder?

MinusInnocence
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Cronono wrote:

The second draft of Artificer for 5e is supposed to be published in this month's Unearthed Arcana. What did you do for Artificers in Pathfinder?

I think I was leaning toward not adapting the Artificer class to the new ruleset. Its core class features that really make it stand out - being able to craft magic items without spending XP, being able to apply metamagic feats to items like scrolls, potions and wands, etc. are already available to every other character capable of crafting magic items in Pathfinder. The remaining class features aren't interesting enough on their own to justify replacing the stuff that is now obsolete, in my opinion.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken