Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Thoughts on How to Keep a Mega-Dungeon Interesting

This is not Monteport.  If this had been the actual map of Monteport instructions would have followed.
+Ken Harrison wrote a great post about Creating Meaningful Choices.  The post was written in response to the mega-dungeon campaign, Monteport, he runs on Monday Night.  I've had a great time playing in his dungeon crawl, but it took some minor adjustments in my gamer-state-of-mind.

First off, I've never playing in a dungeon campaign.  The majority of my gaming experience is urban campaigns with the occasional dungeon in between.  There is a lot of role-playing and figuring out where you belong in the current power structure and plotting how to arrange that structure to suit your needs.  In a mega-dungeon you are in survival mode all the time.  And you know where you are in the power structure of the dungeon all the time, the bottom.  Shops and taverns and streets are gone.  In mega-dungeons it's the next door to open.  The next sound to follow.  The next mystery to solve.  There is no break from the exploration in a mega-dungeon so it better be interesting or it can become tiresome quickly.

Ken has managed to keep things interesting by develop a series of cultures and ecologies within his massive maze.  The party has made a morale decision on who are the good and bad guys.  It wasn't too hard of a choice since the bad guys grow people and eat them.  Each game night I manage to slip in one poorly executed Charles Heston imitation.

Then there is the history of the dungeon.  Layers of it.  This is the stuff he's added that keeps me intrigued.  There are long forgotten people or things that populated this space when it was born.  They left behind scraps and bits of themselves.  These things are so alien to us that it will take more exploration to start understanding them.  We were introduced to a entirely new cosmological point of view.  How can you not get excited about something like that?

The mechanics are routine.  Find a door.  Check for traps (maybe).  Open door.  Fight or friend if someone is on the other side.  Loot room.  Find another door.  Repeat.

That's the skeleton of a mega-dungeon repeated a hundred times.  It's important to make the exploration interesting beyond the collection of treasure or soon your players will be watching reruns of Fraiser instead of showing up for game night. I think it's vital to have small quests within the massive setting.  Mini conclusions along the way.  Little rewards for continuing to go deeper.  Like I've stated before, exploring, killing and looting is fun, but without a purpose the game will loose its focus and fun.

Tomorrow I plan on writing up a few tips on exploring a mega-dungeon from the view point of my character, Adzeer Maitu, Monster Hunter of the 1st Circle.


  1. I use a music analogy for myself when it comes to megadungeons. Running a megadungeon is like playing the blues (from a musician's perspective). Musically, it is a very limited genre...basically three chords over 12 bars (with some variations). But behind that structure is a whole set of emotions and means of expression. To play the blues well involves (a) embracing the musical structure and its limitations and (b) playing the hell out of what you have so that each note counts. The musician has to make each song sound unique using the same limited musical tools. It is one of the reasons I love playing the blues. I feel like you have to embrace the limitations of the dungeon and then play the hell out of it, so that you end up with a unique and fun gaming experience.

    That being said, I wouldn't want a steady diet of just the blues to play, particularly as a bass player. Same with the dungeon.

    1. Excellent post, by the way. I am looking forward to the next one!

  2. Interesting. I'm looking forward to the "in character" comments.

  3. I love the old school geomorph style here. It makes me nostalgic for a younger me, who spent less time obsessing over floor plans making sense or ecosystems. I miss some of the joy of that kid.