The Megalo-Huge Dungeon

So, I woke up one morning a few weeks ago and decided that I was going to create a dwarven dungeon. The idea has always been a desire of mine ever since I read The Lord of the Rings and imagined going through the Mines of Moria. I would create a sprawling dungeon with thousands of rooms, encompassing miles of land and filled with monsters. Lots and lots of monsters, all of them ready to battle any intrepid hero that dared enter their accursed place. It would be great. It would be fun. How hard could it be?

Now, I am not one to shy away from a challenge. In fact, I am the kind of guy who keeps piling on stipulations, ideas, concepts, and all sorts of scope creep (to use a term from a programming friend of mine) until the entire project seems way overwhelming and impossible. Then, I start writing it.

For example, you can’t just have a 6,000-room dungeon spanning nine levels, with each level providing an increasing challenge and a coherent plot that ties the entire project together from the first entry room to the final big-bad-boss challenge. There should be a region where the dungeon awaits and a town (at least) where the heroes can meet, conspire, buy stuff, sell things they find in the dungeon, hear rumors, spend money, hire translators, contract sages, and train. This town cannot be that big when the adventure first starts. It needs to start small and grow with the heroes.

Thelsberry is a good enough name for a small town. It cannot be by itself in the world. There would be no way for it to grow with the heroes. So the town is part of a bigger kingdom but is remote and forgotten. After all, there are not too many people there, and the tax revenues are probably not worth the trip to collect them. Well, not yet. I mean, adventurers will show up to explore the dungeon. They will be pulling out hordes of gold (well, maybe not hordes because I am what many would call a cheap referee), but treasure enough to spend and overflow into the economy.

What is a town without shops, rumors, detailed descriptions of people, or quests? Thelsberry should grow as the heroes spend their loot. There should be a tier system to track how much treasure the heroes spend in the town, and once a limit is reached, Thelsberry reaches a higher tier, which means new types of shops, new equipment, maybe a sage or an alchemist moves in, and new quests. The town map should change to show its progress. New people should move in, providing a chance to learn new things. Other people might be forced out, as small shops close to make way for bigger things.

And what is a region without other things to do? I mean, if there was a dwarven dungeon-mine-castle-thing at one point, would there not have been other structures in the area? So, I started making notes about things that might be around. I thought some of them might connect back to the dungeon and provide rumors, insights, information, maps, keys to doors, hints to puzzles, and more that would aid a hero on their quest. These areas, of course, would need to be infested with monsters and treasures of their own. The fact there could be monsters there would cause the good people of Thelsberry concern. So, the town would need a fear factor rating.

What would a fear factor rating do? Well, my original thoughts were that merchants might now come by as often to replenish the supplies in the town if they were afraid of monsters in the area. New buildings might not arise, limiting the types of supplies, information, or aid the heroes can get, goods the heroes need might not be readily available, and if it got too scary, people might move away and halt the availability of stuff. The magistrate would need to offer quests to rid the areas of these monsters, and the heroes might need to take time away from their dungeon exploits to kill the monsters and calm the townspeople’s fears. They might even earn a reputation with the town. Hmm. Reputation?

So, I made notes. I filled notebooks. I determined, at least on a basic level, what was the purpose of each level of the dungeon, and then I envisioned nine pieces of graph paper taped together (did I mention I was old school) and thought about how the first dungeon level would look. Then, my clever son said I should use Dungeondraft since I would not have to tape things together, and it might be helpful when making a VTT version. So, I created the first level with its entrances, ways down to various levels, ways up to higher levels, and more. It is a thing of beauty, at least to me.

The next step was to write out the room descriptions, add the monsters, the traps, the treasures, the puzzles, the stuff that makes it feel lived-in, the stuff that only a creator could love. I would need to create some new monsters (to confuse the meta-gamers), add a bunch of magic items (and then remove them because I am cheap), and then calculate the entire XP and treasure amount for the level (I use spreadsheets for that). After all, you need to know what levels the heroes will attain. This thought brought up an interesting question. How many heroes would adventure through this dungeon?

But that is a thought for another time …