A yet another attempt at megadungeon

So, one of the things I have on my bucket list is to create a proper megadungeon for OSR tabletop roleplaying stuff. And I have tried doing so already, but each time I got stuck near the beginning, since I had no clue how to stock the dungeon rooms in a sensible and coherent manner. Like, sure, you could just keep rolling dice, cross-referencing with some table, and just putting the results into the rooms – but that's how you end up with nonsense like a huge, 30 meter long dragon being squished into a tiny 6x6 meter room or absolutely out of place monster and npc placements. Granted, you could be fine with out of place stuff and rationalize them easily for single-use dungeons by noting that an npc or monster is doing something specific there, but a megadungeon is meant to house an entire campaign's worth of adventures. They are meant to live and evolve with each group of players tackling the corridors of your own megadungeon. They are meant to function as an entire world to be explored, just at a smaller scale.

And as such, I have decided to have a different approach instead to what I tried before. Back then, during my previous attempts, I've started with drawing maps, but since I didn't really have any overarching sense of direction, of what I want to do with all these rooms, I had zero idea on how to breathe life into the dungeon. This time, I will start with a more high level idea of what I want to include in the dungeon. I will start with the necessary overarching worldbuilding, instead of jumping headfirst into details.

Of course, from this point onward, spoilers ahead. If you think you might be a player for this megadungeon, you probably want to not read further. That being said, the extra knowledge here shouldn't be that impactful on the gameplay yet, but if you would want to attempt to discover the why the dungeon even exists in the first place, well, you should probably stop reading now.

Starting from the beginning

So, let's start at the first thing for this worldbuilding excercise – why a megadungeon such as this would exist in the first place? Digging out an underground structure is hard[citation needed], especially if you consider that such structure is a living space for various creatures, and well... it is huuuuuge. Not only that, but the deeper you go, the larger the expectation for crazy things to be there – so it can't exactly be just a large natural cave complex.

The idea I have in mind is centered around an artifact left by a long gone god. The artifact isn't really well known, but for simplicity let's call it Chaos Core. During a feud between gods, one of them has decided to set up a contingency plan in case their demise – an object buried deep into the ground that would shape the surroundings and create new followers. While that god no longer has any followers – and as such no longer exists – that Chaos Core still works and shapes its surroundings, even if the area of its effect is limited.

The aura of the Chaos Core has attracted a certain crazed wizard (name and details obviously still pending) to build a tower over its location. The wizard did not know about this divine artifact – their plan was instead to create a place where they could experiment with rare and dangerous magical rocks undisturbed. They dug deep, getting somewhat close to the cave-like structures created by the Chaos Core – but before they could reach it, they have realized the danger of these magical rock is so high, that it has to be sealed. They have created one last vault, and left this world soon after.

Soon after, the upper floors of the dungeon have been expanded and settled by various creatures and animals, connecting them to the nearby caves. The lower floors that housed the laboratory were eventually reached and connected by the Chaos Core's structures. This allowed the energy of the artifact to emanate more freely, and ultimately influence a larger area with its power.

Going back to structure

The worldbuilding done here gives me an actual idea on how the dungeon will have to be structured. There will be essentially three layers of this dungeon, each spanning several floors.

The upper layer will be the living layer – you will have mostly some typical factions there, like kobolds, goblins and orcs, as well as mostly dangerous animals. That being said, thanks to various magical influences of previous denizens, as well as the power of Chaos Core, there can be spots where undead are a thing.

The middle layer is going to be the lab of the wizard, with the vault containing the dangerous magical rock being the main, erm, “attraction” – tho I will slap on the radioactive waste warnings onto that. There will be plenty of golems and machinery there, as well as some undead and really weird arguably living beings.

The lower layer will be dedicated towards the chaos. Expect non-euclidean architecture, and absolutely weird and unhinged shit. If I get down there with creating the megadungeon, I will go crazy here. A bit of noneuclidean stuff will be featured in the previous two layers, like teleports and loops – but here I might get to the point that it would simply be easier for me to not bother with drawing a proper map and instead just mark down the graph structure on the paper or something. Players will get lost. Hell, I will probably get lost as a GM. You could call it a bad game design, but honestly? If you manage to get so deep into the dugneon, if you manage to get both your characters and your player group to hold on for that long – the final challenge should be intense in more ways than just one.

What's next?

Next, I will have to start fleshing out the three layers that I have outlined. I don't want to jump right into the floors themselves just yet for two reasons. First, if I were to go into specific floors right now, I risk these floors to be detached from each other, being essentially separate areas stitched with each other, instead of forming a coherent microworld to explore. I am not saying it is a mistake to duct tape things like this – but I do want that certain degree of coherence. The second reason is the fact that I want to incorporate some structures that span across two or more floors. They are important to faciliate some kind of fast travel, they work wonders with connecting the floors with each other, force players to think in the third dimension, and well... they are just cool as fuck.

With this being said, the plan for the next steps in the megadungeon creation is set. The next blogposts will be about the three layers and the important structures I want to incorporate, as well as some factions and denizens of importance.