Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Issue of Megadungeon Versimilitude

Marty on the blog Raging Owlbear expalins whymegadungeons just don’t do it : Versimilitude. Points are raised questioning the purpose of the megadungeon’s original construction, the residents, the diet of the residents, the bathroom needs of the residents, structural engineering, and an on-going chain of door bashing combats.  I’m going to address the points in turn as they were presented.

1. Why was it built? What was its purpose?
Encounter locations should have a reason for existence they are part of a larger environment that has been shaped by it’s own history that shaped the original reason for its construction and its original purpose. “A wizard did it.” is a cornball reason used in the past and still used today by many but certainly not the only possibility. A megadungeon could have started existence simply as the home for one of the many races of subterranean dwelling species, a mine, a temple complex, a necropolis, a prison, a fortress, or a redoubt. In the real world there exist many examples of vast tunnel complexes and underground cities dating back for centuries and these were carved for mundane historical folk and their needs. The megadungeon can remain dedicated to its original purpose or reworked as generation after generation of occupants has re-purposed it to their needs.

2. Who are all these things living here and why?
Megadungeons can be crafted to look like a vast sprawling apartment complex with an attached zoo with a host of beings of all shapes, sizes, and colors living in fairly close proximity and seeming unending mutual cooperation. This may be the state of things in a megadungeon controlled by a central authority or cooperating factions but this may be an misconception based on the typical way megadungoens are described but this is really just a snapshot of who or what is dwelling or lurking where there could and should be complex relations at play that will be catalyzed by the introduction of the player characters and their actions. The megadungeon has a traditional mechanism to address the dungeon residents reacting to the presence of the PCs: the wandering encounter. The wandering encounter can show the megadungeon isn’t static environment where everything sits dimly waiting to be slaughtered but an area swarming with predators, thieves, scavengers, and reaction forces.

3. what the hell are they eating?

Everything (well almost everything) has got to eat. The megadungeon is going to create a situation of shortage and constant demand if a lawless wilderness with no central or factional authorities. In some ways a megadungeon is like a city the residents can’t and don’t raise all the food they eat they have to seek it elsewhere. The megadungeon residents will be raiding, hunting, and foraging to return with nourishment to the megadungeon, the megadungeon residents are not spendign all dy each And every day guarding a chest in a 10’ by 10’ room.

Even in absence or in addition to the raiding element the megadungeon environment is typically host to strange fungus growth and exotic slimes. Stepping up the food chain a megadungeon has a host of vermin such as giant ants, centipdes, bats, and the ever present giant rat all of which eat each other and provide others with nourishment.

The residents if intelligent will surely be raising their own food supply taking advantage of every morsel they can foster. Fungus gardens, strange roots, pools of blind fish, and many other options should be present somewhere in the megadungeon; many of these elements only get token recognition but this nod to verisimilitude can and should be broadened by a DM.

4. Where are they pooping?
All over the place, what do you think is nurturing all those slimes and feeding all that fungus we traditionally see in the megadungeon?  Gelatinous cubes and their kin aren’t patrolling the corridors of the megadungeon just to grab the occasional unwary adventurer. More sophisticated folks will pile their waste in “empty” rooms, make use of chamber pots, and have maintained latrines/privies.

5. What about Structural Engineering?
Megadungeons aren’t just a bunch of bedrock hollowed out in huge swaths in haphazard style they are often the constructed domains of subterranean dwelling races that have dwelled beneath the surface for millennia. There are cities in the modern world sitting atop ancient mines, catacombs, and more built centuries ago (or even longer ago), the entire cities have notcollapsed into the subterranean realms beneath them. This doesn’t mean there can’t be neglected or hazardous areas in a megadungeon, a large area empty rooms could ready to bury the unwary at any moment.

6. Oh My Gruumsh… yet another combat?
If all the characters are doing is moving from room to room kicking open doors and slaying monsters in their dwellings for handfuls of copper the players and the DM are cheating themselves. Storming through the megadungoen killing everything should be a death sentence for hapless PCs. How successful would a dozen guys be in looting a city one room at a time in as violent and noisy fashion as they can possibly manage the resources to support? (not long). This whole door kicking monster butchering cycle repeated again and again is an unimaginative reaction by players and DM to the seemingly static nature of the megadungeon by misunderstanding of the snapshot nature of the typical dungeon encounter/room description. A megadungeon should be a dynamic environment with many paths to adventure and success it should provide the room to explore, negotiate, con, steal, or raid


  1. Replies
    1. Er, rather the wiki of the game I plan to run eventually. I guess, technically, I already run the wiki. ;-)

    2. I'd say the definition on said wiki only fits some folks notions of versimilitude.

  2. I actually agree with most of the points here.

    I suppose my issue is that the bulk of published megadungeon adventures usually have all of the faults I outline in my blog (and none of the considerations included here). A good GM can certainly include a large, sprawling realistic encounter setting in their campaign... but when you look at the "genre" (for lack of a better word) of megedungeons, they mostly consist of grindy dungeon crawls with no internal logic or consistency.

    1. On what do you base this claim that most megadungeons are "grindy dungeon crawls with no internal logic or consistency?"

    2. I really think a lot of the issue is format and presentation. Boxed text is also an evil that forces ove development of the meaningless cutting into room for signifigant data.