Megadungeons are a staple of many campaign worlds. Traditionally, they are the setting for a long campaign of exploration and delving. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using a megadungeon in this way, but that’s not the only way they can be used.
As part of designing Gloamhold, I’ve been thinking about how GMs use megadungeons in their campaigns. Designing the history and layout of the megadungeon itself seems relatively simply. Keeping the play experience fresh and engaging, however, is the trick. When designing a megadungeon, a GM should always keep in mind why the PCs are there in the first place. A good hook is crucial.
With that in mind, here are two different ways to use a megadungeon in your campaign. However, if should be noted both of the options below will likely entail extra preparation on the GM’s part as few — if any — megadungeons are set up with these uses in mind.
We Must Get Out
The PCs are trapped deep in the megadungeon, for some reason. Perhaps they were captured by slavers who sold them to the megadungeon’s master. He in turn transports them to one of the deepest levels and plans to sacrifice them to his dark patron. The party escape before the ceremony and, trapped deep underground, they must work together to once again reach the surface. A twist on this hook could involve the PCs escaping from the villain’s clutches while still close to the surface. Their escape in thus relatively easy, but their experiences and lust for revenge serves as a great hook to propel them back into the megadungeon.
Alternatively, the party appear in the bowels of the megadungeon through a one-way portal and cannot escape by returning the way they came. Thus, they must fight their way to freedom (but at least they have all their equipment!)
We Live Here
The PCs live in the megadungeon. They could be dwarves (and/or their allies) living in the remnants of an ancient dwarven hold besieged by goblins, orcs or the like. War is a constant feature of life for the PCs as they fight to defend their home. Their adventures could focus on them trying to reach the surface to find allies or on attacks on their enemy’s lairs.
Alternatively, the PCs could be the descendants of the servants of the mad archmage who built the place. This option, allows for a greater variety in player races, and could act as a good reason to allow aberrant, odd or mutated PCs of a variety of racial types.
In either event, they live deep inside the dungeon and ferocious monsters dominate the surrounding levels and sub-levels. Just reaching the surface is difficult and dangerous; perhaps no one has done so in years. Something has happened to break the status quo in either the dungeon or the PCs’ home and the PCs must strive to reach the surface or clear large portions of the dungeon for some reason.
Help Fellow GMs
Have you used a megadungeon in another way beyond the setting for standard dungeon delving? Let us know what they are in the comments below and help your fellow GMs run better megadungeon style campaigns today!