DCC and Megadungeons looks to be an ongoing series as I construct Saint Cuthbert’s on the Rock, and run my players through it. I’ve already tossed around some ideas and solutions to potential problems in Part 1.
The biggest problem common to all megadungeon is this: too much crawl, too much sprawl, and too many repetitive encounters. Fortunately, this can easily be solved with the following solutions…
- the PCs should have specific missions and goals whenever entering a megadungeon. The PCs goal should never be: clear a level.
- The MUD-Style Maps, as mentioned last time. Even the DM shoudn’t map every square foot of a megadungeon. If there’s a bunch of empty places, for the sake of brevity and to avert boredom, tell the players they pass through these areas and find nothing.
- Factions. Does a megadungeon have competing factions within to offer opportunities for roleplaying? Or to pit these factions against each other?
- Restocking when the characters leave or having new areas to explore.
The big question my mind, however, is…
What does a Dungeon Crawl Classics Megadungeon Look Like?
The short answer:
Weird. All of weird’s definitions apply here: supernatural, uncanny, alienating, disbelievable in the context of the normal world, and yet somehow intrinsically tied with one’s destiny. Anything goes so long as its not cliche or lends itself to comedy.
The Long Answer:
Speaking of cliches. The following are verboten in Saint Cuthbert’s on the Rock and any other dungeon I construct for Dungeon Crawl Classics:
- Mad wizards who built the dungeon for no apparent reason.
- Dwarves who had a mine but dug too deep and released a buried powerful evil (demon, lich, dragon, or whatever).
- Any sort of area containing 2000 cp and the like with no unique treasure.
- Most of the tricks and traps listed in D&D Supplement I: Greyhawk or The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures.
- The same goes for anything Grimtooth. Its too well known, or too easy for players to find.
- Any sort of series of shifting corridors or rooms designed deliberate to confound and frustrate a mapper. (I’ve been through these myself, they get boring really fast).
- Cute and cuddly yet Killer Kobolds.
- A dragon at the bottom-most level.
There’s more, of course.
The most important philosophy from Dungeon Crawl Classics I’ve learned is avoid the old standards whenever possible. Abandon all presumptions as it says on page 10 of the DCC rulebook. So far, I’ve been reasonably successful at other parts of The Expeditions in the Northlands.
Every megadungeon needs a history. This one happens to be weird. And weird is good.
When I first conceived St. Cuthbert’s on the Rock, I thought about putting a Cthulhu Mythos entity inside it, like Shub-Niggurath. But it would have changed the tone and theme of the campaign. I’m not running Call of Cthulhu. Dungeon Crawl Classics already has too many Cthulhu-themed elements for my homebrew setting anyway (or maybe I’m just saying that because two of my players are running clerics of Cthulhu).
(Besides, back in 2005 I.R. another group of PC in another part of Domikka banished Shub-Niggurath from the world. Gotta maintain some kind of continuity, after all.)
So it won’t be Cthulhu-weird (with wavy tentacles and random eyeballs all over the place), but it has to weird in a different way.
So I’ve chosen the weirdness, and it has a lot to do with the prehistory of Saint Cuthberts on the rock, before the first Auricken-mensch settled the Northlands and converted most of the inhabitants there to the Virtoaan faith.
Again, just as last time to my players: I don’t care if you read this. Chances are, you realized there was something weird about the dungeon when you crossed a certain threshold, I queued up Eulogy (and other songs) by Tool right before you fought those when you fought those humanoids with moving black spheres inside them…
One Final Concern:
Too Deep to Leave
I have a house rule in The Expeditions in the Northlands, if they don’t make it back to Engelhadden before the end of a session, they’re considered camping until all their characters can play again. Saint Cuthbert’s on the Rock is less than a day’s walk from town, but they almost ended up camping in the dungeon because of a basilisk they had (by dumb luck) bypassed earlier and had chance of encountering on the way back out.
Now I wonder what would happen if the PCs got hindered a second time before they could leave the dungeon.
A solution would be to have multiple exits, but the PCs have yet to discover them, if any.