Player Advice: Why Your Characters Could Explore the Megadungeon

A friend of mine posed a very basic question, last week. It was such a basic question, that I hadn’t even considered it before because the answered seemed —on the face of it— obvious. Simply put, why would the PCs enter a megadungeon like Gloamhold in the first place?

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


By virtue of their setup and style, megadungeon play tends to be more player driven than a normal campaign. In a normal campaign, the GM — to a certain extent — railroads the PCs through a set sequence of adventures. In a megadungeon, the PCs have more freedom to explore as they choose. Particularly, if they discover a means of accessing many different levels — such as the Slippery Stair in Deep Delve — they can go literally anywhere.

I’ve already talked about why your PC adventures, why the party adventures together and even what hidden motivation might drive his adventures. However, for a megadungeon campaign I think its a good idea to consider the actual location as a potential personal adventure hook for your PC. Of course, the party will likely decide on tactical, short-term goals such as “find stairs to the second levels” or “eradicate the goblins living in the Warrens.” These goals, though, develop during play and don’t address the basic question: why would your PC enter the megadungeon in the first place? (And possibly — and more crucially — why would he keep going back?)

Beyond the standard reasons for adventuring your PC could be entering the megadungeon for one these reasons:

  • To Boldly Go: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to explore a megadungeon just because it is there. If your character grew up with stories of heroic feats of daring do deep in the megadungeon’s bowels, he might dream of someday visiting the places in the stories. Similarly, if no one has returned from a foray into the Obsidian Temple or mapped what lies beyond the Bridge of Sorrows fame and glory await the person who first achieves these feats.
  • It’s a Family Tradition: Other family members have explored the megadungeon in the past and your PC is following the family tradition. He may want to emulate or beat the deeds of his relative or to overcome a challenge his relative failed to defeat. The family may have an obsession with a fragment of a treasure map purporting to show a section of the dungeon. They still search for the area (and the treasure said to be hidden there).
  • It’s a Family Tradition and Something Went Wrong: Exploring the megadungeon is a family tradition, but in this instance something went wrong. Perhaps, a relative died during a delve and their body was not recovered. Alternatively, the relative could have simply disappeared — fate unknown — or have lost a heirloom in the dungeon. Discovering the truth and/or recovering what was lost are powerful personal motivators for an adventurer.
  • Revenge: Someone betrayed your PC’s family in some way. Perhaps they murdered his parents, stole a priceless family relic or enacted some other horrible betrayal on your PC’s nearest and dearest. Whatever they did, they then fled to the depths of the megadungeon. The only way to have revenge is to enter the dungeon, track down the malefactor and slay him.

So that’s four basic reasons your PC could dare to enter a megadungeon like Gloamhold. There are loads others. If you’ve got suggestions, leave a comment below and help your fellow gamers build better, more rounded adventuers today.

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

2 thoughts on “Player Advice: Why Your Characters Could Explore the Megadungeon”

  1. Back to the node-based megadungeon, many of the regions identify ‘external hooks’, reasons why someone might come to the megadungeon.

    Abandoned Tower? Stories of a long-dead wizard with mad loot… both ‘lots of’ and ‘crazy’.

    Wolf Den and Goblin Warren? Local villages are being attacked by goblins riding wolves (or more accurately, ‘wolves ridden by goblins).

    Dwarven Safehold? The Dwarven Kingdom wants to re-establish contact.

    Aristothanes’ Sanctum? The Wizard Guild hasn’t heard from Aristothanes in a while and wants something from him. Or Aristothanes is the best known expert on a topic, so you want to learn from him.

    Fane of Baalshamoth? Who doesn’t want to visit (or destroy) a temple to a twisted god?

    Shalthazard the Pale? His far-reaching plots have finally been discovered, and the picture painted by their effects is terrifying.

    There are many reasons why someone might want to delve in here, even apart from random treasure seeking. Discovering these reasons was pretty simple, too — just ask “what effect does this have outside the megadungeon?”

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