My Expeditions in the Northlands players have done it; after bypassing the large basilisk at the secret entrance, they entered the first level of the campaign’s megadungeon: Saint Cuthbert’s on the Rock.
Imagine Georgia’s Stone Mountain split in two down the middle. Each half is steeper and rougher than its real-life counterpart, hence much harder to ascend. An old monastery, Saint Cuthbert’s on the Rock, stands on top of one of the halves, seemingly abandoned but not ruined. The monks who lived there haven’t been seen in 30 years.
And the last adventuring group who established a base camp vanished around five years ago.
So I have this basic backstory (and more) developed, the outline of the first couple levels, and a sketch of the rest of the megadungeon.
So now what?
To my players: if you read this, that’s fine. I’m spit-balling ideas. What you read here won’t give away any major spoilers or clues for the dungeon.
My main concern: Can Dungeon Crawl Classics handle megadungeons?
Experience Points, Monsters, and Treasure
Dungeons & Dragons, of course, in its various editions can handle megadungeons quite well, especially those earlier editions where you needed gobs experience points from treasure and monsters to level up characters. A megadungeon usually had enough monsters and treasure to satisfy the need for experience points while keeping the PCs wanting for more.
DCC, however, uses a different experience point system based roughly on encounter difficulty and the Game Master’s discretion (1-4 points per encounter), No experience points for treasure. As the rule book says, this system is less fiddly, and that’s why I like it.
Because of this, characters are less likely to fight monsters for the sake of experience points. It’s why my players bypassed that basilisk. They may have gotten 4 experience points for defeating extremely difficult encounter, but half (or all) of the party could have perished.
Therefore: if there’s no experience points for treasure, and the experience point system doesn’t support defeating lots of monsters (or traps), then why are the PCs in the megadungeon?
Exploration and Goals
For the first few months of the campaign, Saint Cuthbert’s on the Rock was a mystery. The PCs heard rumors about it. They could see it from Engelhadden. But they didn’t know how to get to it until one of the characters (now no longer with the party because of a homebrew Deck of Many Things) received a vision from his patron and found an entrance at the base of the mountain, far below the monastery itself.
So it was the initial mystery, along with the possibility of discovery some lost relics and treasure in the monastery which lured them there in the first place.
Now there must be other goals and mysteries for the characters to discover. Fortunately, I’ve already placed a few here and there.
Avoiding too much Crawl in the Dungeon Crawl
Megadungeons can be boring.
From my experience playing in them or running them, there’s either a lot of empty, extra space, (The Ruins of Undermountain), or its chalk-full of difficult encounters (Rappan Athuk) which can lead to a 15 minute adventuring day, or too many boring repetitive encounters (The Worlds Largest Dungeon).
An annoyance I’ve had with megadungeons (or dungeons in general) in the past is the propensity for players to explore everything down to the last copper. There must be something in this nearly empty 30’x20′ room with a table–the GM barely described it!?! We search again!
I hope to reach a happy medium with Saint Cuthbert’s on the Rock.
Yet I still can’t shrug the feeling DCC is meant for smaller dungeons.
MUD-Style Maps—A Possible Solution?
One of my players used this method in the last session which helped the group leave the dungeon without getting lost. I then recalled I’d first read about this Multi-User-Dungeon method of mapping on page 71 of Gary Gygax’s Isidiae, by Dan Cross, published by Troll Lord Games, in 2004.
It goes something like this: rooms and other encounter areas are represented by boxes. Each box can represent a space of any size. The lines between each boxes represent the means from one encounter to another (a series of small rooms, one long corridor, warren of small caverns, etc.)
These are the empty areas which convey the size and scope of the megadungeon, but the PCs don’t have to explore them. Maybe if they insist, I can modify the Random Loot tables in Crawl! #2 say it takes you 3d6 turns to explore this area which a chance of a random encounter. If you survive, here’s what you find…
This means, aside from certain specific and important encounter areas, you don’t have the map a whole dungeon level to-scale… and neither do the player-characters. Its a time-saver.
To be Continued…
I’ve other ideas in mind on how to mix DCC and megadungeons, and when they’re ready I’ll share them in a couple weeks or so after further expeditions into Saint Cuthbert’s on the Rock.