Monday, November 26, 2018

Lessons from the Megadungeon

I've been working on this megadungeon for quite a while now, and I think I'm starting to come across a few best practices. I'll go over what I've learned so far here for you today.

Just Keep Drawing!

Your megadungeon is going to be big and that means a lot of rooms. So don't sweat silly questions like, "Is this too big?" or "Am I going overboard?" It's ok. You're just putting the mega in megadungeon. I say this having mapped well over a square mile of dungeon across three zones, and I have a solid 15 zones already planned with room for more. So if you want to make a megadungeon, just keep mapping!

If You Have an Idea, Draw It

Pretty much just that. If you get an idea for a cool encounter, sketch it somewhere so you can insert it when you get back to your dungeon. This helps accumulate those periodic set pieces that can really make a dungeon. It also gives you the freedom to put them wherever you want. I try to keep a couple such ideas lying around waiting for insertion when I get to a spot that looks like it wants a little pzazz.

Mark Door Directions

Make sure you mark which direction doors open. This is very important for tactical reasons, and it also tells you which sides the hinges are on, assuming they aren't recess hinges. It just takes an arrow and it makes your life easier down the road.

Don't Over-Specify

Are you drawing every last detail in each room as you map? Don't bother. Those details will change as soon as the players get in there, and it also boxes you in when you are placing other stuff. It's okay to have notes like, "skeletal spiders here", or "goblin market", but try to avoid being too specific until you start stocking and describing. Even then, only describe the bits that give mechanical info or clues. You can improvise the rest later.

Sketch What Comes to You

When you're drawing, don't worry about how the dungeon fits together, why rooms are where they are, or how that dragon will get down to its layer through all of those 3-foot-wide corridors. That's wasted energy, and solving that later when you're stocking is fodder for inspiration. Moreover, your dungeon probably has history. The rooms don't have to make sense for their current purpose. Maybe they were something else at some other time and they've been re-purposed. Maybe no one remembers what they were for originally. And it really doesn't matter. Now they hold monsters, loot, traps, and puzzles.

Map Often

Your dungeon is going to be enormous, so try to sit down every day or two and jot down a room or ten. Personally, I tend to go days without drawing and then blast out fifty or so rooms at a go, but that's just how I seem to function. Either way, try to be averaging as many rooms per day as possible. That dungeon isn't going to draw itself, and it needs a lot of rooms.

Don't Force It

If you've been mapping for hours on end and you're really trying to finish that level, but the inspiration is just gone, don't kill yourself over it. Put your map away and go do something else. You won't make a good map by forcing creativity. Instead, clear your head and come back to it later with fresh eyes - even if it means no progress for a day or two. Overall, you'll get further and you'll enjoy doing it.

That's all I have for now. I'll probably make more posts like these as the mapping progresses. If you have any tips and tricks for mapping a megadungeon, post them in the comments below. It's always good to get different perspectives!


  1. I have a bunch, and you've clearly hit on some of the same ones I recognized as I mapped mine:
    Megadungeon Design (especially the "Best Practices" posts)

    1. I saw these a few years ago, and I'm rereading them now. It looks like some of this stuff I've been doing. I do like your suggestion of just writing area labels in big swaths across sections of paper. One part of my dungeon is a little meandering right now, and that would have helped a lot. I do need to work on my room format, but thankfully, I'm anal enough to have a numbering system, already.

      I am curious how you handle "The deeper you go, the harder it gets" with sprawling levels. I've considered "the further for the entrances, the hard it gets", but that gets hairy with good connectivity. Do you find it an issue that Level 1, as big as it sounds like it is, might not be worth delving because PCs are just that powerful?

    2. I made a lot of level 1 sufficiently dangerous that DF delvers has trouble with it. Nowadays it is too poor to be worth the risk.

    3. Have you gradually increased the difficulty of the dungeon as the PCs got more powerful/numerous, or has it always been as tough as it is? It seems like you've used the risk to loot ratio to incentivize players to dig deeper.