Saturday, January 12, 2013

At What Level(s) Does a Megadungeon Work Best?

We've touched on themes. We are still talking about which systems work best with the megadungeon format (surprisingly it's a very varied grouping of systems).

What I'd like to talk about now is "what levels work best for a megadungeon?"

Does the format work best with lower levels, middling levels, high levels?

Does it work equally well across the board, or do you need to make certain adjustments at one extreme or the other?

Does it work better or worse with a system that is level-less (generally sill based), such as GURPS, RQ/Legend, Savage Worlds, etc?

Is it feasible to have one megadungeon go from level 1 to 20, or should there be a grouping of smaller megadungeons that are linked thematically / by story / regionally / etc and are broken down by level ranges?

Can a megadungeon actually be a campaign setting? Can it be a sandbox styled setting?

You've all given me much to think about over the last few days. I suspect you've given each other a lot to think about to. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter.


  1. The level spread that's just right for a megadungeon varies a lot with the game being played and the play style. Artillery spells can alter the game but not as much as they do outdoors.

    A true sandbox megadungeon needs neutrals and friendlies somewhere in the place and resources to exploit beyond loot gained by kicking open doors and carrying off treasure chests. The fruits of fungal forests, ores recovered in deep mines and other produce serve as extra loot and leverage.

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  3. dnd obviously built for crawling player lv = dungeon lv
    my biggest concern is what do they all eat - if every orc needs a thousand calories (goblins and kobolds less)- the caves of chaos would need hundreds of pounds of food per day - they cant all be living off adventurers? Id like to work on viable ecology - monster dung > maggots, bugs and roaches > rats > snakes for example but needs more....the dungeon diet - can adventurers live off the land?

  4. Good question. As far as D&D is concerned, 4e PCs have a lot of options (healing and otherwise) even at low levels. In classic editions the lower levels are very sketchy and dangerous, so DMs and PCs alike will want to have Clerics and Wizards with some varied abilities before realsitically attempting a megadungeon. I always think of Descent into the Depths of the Earth-do not apply if you can't hang for several days underground.

    It is purely subjective, but if forced to suggest a "sweet spot" for a 4e megadungeon it would be 5th-6th level, while for B/X or 1e it would be more like 10th.

  5. My gut feeling would be that the traditional layered megadungeon works best from 1st to ca 10th level; with dungeon level corresponding to PC & threat level. The OD&D rules were largely designed around that concept.

    Around mid level (ca 7th, depending on edition) PCs have the resources for large scale overland expeditions, but the depths of the megadungeon can still challenge them.

    At high level (11+) the megadungeon format tends to break down, PCs start to have the ability to evade threats, teleport to where they want to go (esp at 13+ if Teleport Without Error is available), are not threatened by regular challenges, etc. The game tends to shift to domain rulership, warfare & politics, or "Heart of Darkness" assaults on major evil power centres as in Vault of the Drow & Queen of the Demonweb Pits. Megadungeon play at this level is still possible, but will resemble the end levels of Diablo.

    Very high levels (16+, depending on edition) have godlike PCs and seem to work best with small PC groups in short but epic adventures where a single PC intervention can change the fate of worlds. I don't think megadungeon play at this level is attractive or very workable, if you're a demigod do you really want to be grinding through dungeon levels?

    1. It's notable that the 1e NPC adventurer dungeon encounters max out at 13th level PCs, rolled with a 6 on d6+7. I think that's a good guide - above about 10th level megadungeon play is still possible, but will be increasingly unusual. Most 11th+ PCs have better things to do.

  6. Hey this is a neat blog. I will be reading much more frequently. Cool topics and comments. Thanks for posting up the link on the Swords and Wizardry google+ group.

  7. If the dungeon has an ecology and makes sense and has room like four or more pages of graph paper per level then it is very possible to keep it going forever. In fact I just bet there are old groups out there that are doing just that. The only version of the game I found that megadungeons don't work well at all is 4E as combat just takes too long and a huge dungeon with hundreds of encounters would take years to play every level. I find AD&D 1E to the the best at doing the megaduneon.


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