Thursday, October 8, 2020

We Have Always Lived in the Megadungeon

 I have on occasion riffed settings which were small or at least smaller than the typical D&Dish setting. This goes against the grain of published settings which tend to want to give you big, as in a world big, and perhaps classic play which starts circumscribed, but is about expanding the frontier.

There is one archetypal D&Dish experience that doesn't quite work this way and that's the megadungeon. Certainly exploring the megadungeon means opening up more area, but the scale is so much smaller generally than the hexcrawl. Distance is not a primary factor.

It strikes me that the dungeoncrawl could easily combined with the player's living space. Megadungeons under towns are pretty common, but then the town becomes a place of relative safety and refuge that may or may not enter into actual play as anything more than "base camp." What if the megadungeon space and the living space bled into each other? Like say the PCs lived in a place like Gormenghast or Xuchotl from "Red Nails," or the starship Warden, and the exploration was progressively moving into rooms, levels, sections or whatever that were unknown? (You could perhaps include small settings with actually dungeons/underground spaces in this. See MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblins.)

This could be combined quite easily with the mystery sandbox. Indeed, the incremental accumulation of vast wealth is probably a bad goal for a smaller setting of this sort. Not that money might not be a motivator, but the real big payoffs should only come at the end.

Obviously, this sort of setting would differ from the standard D&D approach even without the downplaying of vast wealth. Parties would likely be less eclectic. The length of the campaign is probably somewhat limited without a change in approach unless the structure they reside in is really weird, but I think it would make for interesting low level play.


Scott said...

One variation on this is the endless house or mansion with vast domains contained within it, as in James Stoddard's High House series, or the more recent Piranesi by Susanna Clarke.

JB said...

Isn't that basically the idea behind Metamorphosis Alpha? Also this appears to have been one of the possible campaign concepts of Spelljammer (using the titular vehicle as your setting). Philip Jose Farmer's "Dungeon" series is a bit of this as well.

I agree that the appeal of the idea is somewhat limited (i.e. that it's made for more of a "short-term" campaign)...I would think the idea would get too weird after a while, with no respite for the PCs from the pressure/danger of the environment.

Anne said...

Setting the entire campaign inside a dungeon that has no outside appeals to me. Maybe we should call those "Klein Bottle Campaigns"?

Gus L said...

I wholeheartedly endorse this. I ran a "worlddungeon" on G+ for years and it was the best setting I've ever run -- if you want dungeon crawlin' as your focus. I think there's plenty of ways to do it as well. Cursed afterlife, 1970's style fallen utopia/generation ship, Gromenghast - the game of murder and etiquette or even just goblintown.

Anyway - keep thinking the good thoughts! Cheers!