Monday, October 26, 2009

Yet Another Megadungeon-Related Post

I’ve been reading the posts from late last week concerning the topic of megadungeons. Considering that I’m about to release a book detailing the first half of a traditional ten-level megadungeon, it’s fair to say that I have some investment in the subject. After taking the time to digest and reflect on what others have had to say on the subject, I’d like to state my own thoughts on the matter.

James speaks the truth when he says that publishing a true megadungeon would not be an easy task. After spending the last ten months putting my own megadungeon into a publishable format, I readily agree with him and can attest to the difficulty of the task. Had I known then what I know now, I might have scrapped the idea and continued my semi-weekly “no muss, no fuss” PDF uploads.

Although they state it in different ways, most of the authors linked to above are basically saying that a true megadungeon can’t be done in the traditional module format of boxed text, Big Bads, contrived plot lines, and static locales. A different approach is needed to capture the flexibility and mutability of the megadungeon. This is again something I agree with wholeheartedly.

From the very beginning, I adopted the One Page Dungeon Philosophy (although I schismed early and expanded to two pages). The skeletal format appealed to me because I was looking to develop my notes more through actual play than on the desktop. I wanted to have the freedom to come up with ideas on the fly and work with the players and their actions to develop the campaign world. As a bonus of the format, the One Page Design School allows other referees to take my exact same notes and run with them, leading to results completely different from what I produced.

The Stonehell Dungeon book is the natural culmination of this school of thought. As I state in the book’s introduction:
Stonehell Dungeon offers a different approach to role-playing adventures. Rather than saddling the party with a predetermined goal introduced by an event or NPC, Stonehell Dungeon offers the game master a complex location filled with monsters, treasures, and special NPCs that he can use as a stage on which to craft his own series of adventures. In many ways, Stonehell Dungeon is similar to the action figure play sets and dollhouses we enjoyed as children. This book presents the game master with all the props he needs to tell a good tale, but leaves the plot of the story up to him and his players to create. And just like those play sets and dollhouses of our youth, the Labyrinth Lord is not required to use any or all of the accessories included in the package – just those which catch his eye.
Stonehell is a bare bones book. While it is absolutely possible to sit down and start playing it as is, the megadungeon will only really shine when the referee starts putting his own spin on things and breathes life into all of the dungeon’s dusty corners and dank chambers - and there is plenty of room to do so.

What Stonehell Dungeon is not, however, is an instructional tool – something that the hobby’s lack of has been lamented on. I didn’t intend to write a guide for novice referees looking to design their own megadungeon, although suggestions on adapting and customizing Stonehell to one’s own campaign world and players are provided. That being said, I wish that I had a book like this one when I was starting out in my own refereeing career. It would have given me the basic framework to hang my own crazy creations own and plenty of room to develop new ideas based on the source material.

It is my belief that if you gave this book to two different referees to run, after a few months of regular play and individual alterations, you’d have two completely different megadungeons. Although some similarities would remain, the overall dungeon would be an intensely personal creation.

It’s certainly easy to sit here and write these bold proclamations. Proving them, however, is another story, and it will be up to the gamers at large to say whether or not I succeeded in what I have attempted to do. In the next few weeks, I fully expect to be reading one of two possible types of posts amongst the blognards: one that either says, “Mike Curtis has proven it is possible to publish a classic-style megadungeon” or one that reads, “Mike Curtis has provided more proof supporting the argument that it’s extremely difficult to publish as classic-style megadungeon.” In either case, I can be satisfied knowing that I’ve tried my best to create a megadungeon reminiscent of the Saturday Night Dungeon Crawls of the hobby’s youth.

Regardless of how things turn out, I’m fairly confident I can count on you all to let me know if I should be walking around with my head held high or if I should start wiping the egg off of my face.


Crusty One said...

Loving Stonehell mate. Just using the downloads you put up and after two sessions, one of them 10 hours long, the party have just about finished exploring quadrant 1A. I haven't played an RPG in 15 years and I'm having a whale of a time running it. Your two page format absolutely clicks with me, and I'll definitely be buying the books when they're out as Stonehell is our "tent pole".


grodog said...

I'm looking forward to seeing your approach to the publishing format for Stonehell, Michael (as well as to the content itself, too, of course :D ).


Al said...

I'm looking forward to this too!

Chris said...

I wish you all the best for the release of Stonehell, but am laying in a supply of eggs just in case. What? They're for celebratory cafe baking. What did you think...? ;)

Let's have no false modesty here though. The Stonehell blog posts, the Dungeon Alphabet and the Random Chamber Table together form a veritable "how to" of megadungeon tinkerage.

Throw in Philotomy's musings on the underworld and Sham's thoughts on the Empty Room, and you have - IMO - some truly excellent pointers on the way to megadungeon zen.

Ya done good Mike.