Thursday, August 27, 2015

Multi-Square Megadungeon II

My journey in dungeoncraft has finally led me back to crafting that megadungeon. Except this time it’s for my Glorious Bastards campaign instead my first and still ongoing Pirates of the Aegean game. Turns out my pirate players decided to sail west and leave Haven behind. I find the player’s of my Glorious Bastards game in the sewers underneath Kwythellar, one of Erebus’ largest metropolises. Since the it’s one of the largest cities, I think the sewer system should be large and labyrinthine as well.

I had fun running the last quest. It was a combination of using parts from the Heroes of Drakonheim series by Sneak Attack Press and winging some sewer exploration on my part sans map. The focus was to save an innocent gnome cook from being the fall guy for a murder by helping him escape the city through the sewers. I wasn’t planning for the sewer to last for anything more than a single quest. But since the last session ended only halfway through the sewers, and I’ve got my creative juices flowing, why not flesh it out? Let’s make this into a megadungeon that can be revisited time and time again!

There’s several possibilities I see this area being used for. First is for a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl with a city theme. Second as a showcase for clues to the many campaign secrets I’ve devised. Thirdly, the sewers could be a refuge from the party’s run ins with the law and evil nobles. Player characters are murder-hobos, and murder-hobos in cities are criminals. They’re already on the path to having bounties on their heads for helping a suspected murderer to flee custody. If they find a way to escape the blame, it won’t take much for them to fall back of the frying pan and into the fire. Sooner or later, they’re going to need a place to hide and the sewers will be one of the group’s better options.

Now a megadungeon is never empty. It’ll be a dangerous place in it’s own right, but hopefully less dangerous than an army of guards scouring the city for our wanted heroes. I’ve already got some of the sewers populated by goblin tribes and necromancers from the Drakonheim series. Let’s start there.

When adapting anything published for your own setting, there’s no rule that says you can’t change anything. Instead a secret society of necromancers left over from a bygone age, they’re refugees from the Sheiam Empire who fled into the Underdark and found themselves in the sewer system of Kwythellar. The Grey Society has been slowly infiltrating Kuriotate society and power structure for the better part of forty years. Instead of random sewer goblin tribes, let’s say they also came from the Underdark. A remnant tribe from the Age of Ice, which perhaps never found it’s way back to the surface before now.

There’s an unanswered question which will only serve to flesh things out further. Why are these groups leaving the Underdark? The Grey Society are mostly human, so it can simply be they’d rather live on the surface again. Why did the goblins leave? They have no problem underground. I’m thinking a shortage of food. To make things interesting, let’s say they left because they weren’t at the top of the food chain any longer. Oh, the possibilities…

Back to the megadungeon itself. We’ve got some factions. Things are still kind of amorphous (oozes anyone?). I mentioned above that the possibilities for this area to be used are for dungeon crawls, revealing clues to a secret, and a place the players can hide. This is all from the Dungeon Master’s point of view. How do these possibilities translate into reasons for the players to visit? Well, I doubt the heroes are going to turn to each and say, “Let’s risk our lives and slay monsters for no reason. Onwards!” Or at least I hope not. There also not going to say, “I want to risk my life exploring a dangerous area to figure out why my tiny bird cage trinket has no door.” The only Dungeon Master motivations here which crossover with player motivations is that they might actually use the sewers to hide from bad guys, aka establish a base.

What this megadungeon needs is to develop more reasons for the players to explore it, and not only reasons to explore it right now but to come back in the future. The Alexandrian wrote a great post on Goals in the Megadungeon which I’m going to utilize here. Concurrently I’ll be using the principles from his Jaquaying the Dungeon essays which go into even greater depth on the subject of dungeon map design.

Here’s what is important to look at right now. The route(s) which can be followed on the map should not be linear in choice. What that specifically means is that the choices should be meaningful, meaning each individual choice has a different consequence. The Alexandrian uses this method which he found from this post on enworld.

In a nutshell, regardless of the twisting corridors are on the actual dungeon map, if a path or series of rooms leads to one and only one destination it’s linear (A). These linear games have just one choice, which really isn’t a choice at all, which is storytelling not roleplaying. If you don’t want to make choices in your game are you really playing a game? Just go read a book or turn on the tv. Anyway, let’s get back to explaining these line drawings. Part B is A on steroids. The only choice is do we go down this path or not. In other words, do we go down the railroad or not play? Again, not a meaningful choice.

C & D is where it’s at. Now there are possibilities of not seeing whole sections of the dungeon - allowing for the possibility of future visits - or making some of those branches loop around. When these are included in a dungeon map, choices become meaningful. “Are we going left into the cave or right into the sewers? Going to the caves could mean we never see the sewers again. What if the mcguffin is in the sewers and not the caves? Let’s investigate.” See, the caves might lead back to the sewers, but the players end up skipping some really nasty stuff that could hold them up. They just don’t know on the first pass through, since they haven’t mapped the whole dungeon yet. A straight line means no choices, and no future visits. What sounds more interesting to you?


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