Megadungeons are Anti-Product

November 9, 2023 dnd megadungeons product-design

This is a 400+ room mega-dungeon with multiple levels and sub-levels, built around a direct goal: retrieve the SKOROS ORB, the mysterious artifact used by the evil wizard ILLITH VARN to wage war upon the KINGDOM OF OROSTRANTHY. It is meant for mid- to high-level play: my players started around level 13 or 14, and are now between levels 20 and 22. Each main level has 60-70 rooms and each sub-level has 30-50 rooms, heavily themed around classic Dungeons and Dragons tropes: traps, treasure, exploration, secrets, vivid NPCs, factions, difficult boss fights, and open-ended puzzles and problems. At the same time, a number of factions are vying simultaneously to retrieve the Skoros Orb, including a rival party, THE DEADBOYZ. This campaign has provided us maybe three or four years of play, and my players are nearing the conclusion.

Nate’s blog about the Shattered Labyrinths of Illith Varn has been on my mind a lot recently. Specifically about how megadungeons are anti-product. That is they resist commercialization. Any megadungeon of substantial value is inherently designed around the players at the table, and can’t just be a pre-designed space ready for players to explore.

There is some amount of pre-designed-ness that can be had, for sure, that’s what prep is about. But commercial products require both too much and provide too little. They require you to provide as much information as humanly possible, so as to reduce the amount of prep burden on the referee as possible, but then as soon as a space is encountered once, it’s useless. It does not change or update or mutate in any way. The product is static and therefore stagnant. Reading accounts like Nate’s of his group’s campaign through the megadungeon is really interesting to me, because it highlights that megadungeons can be described and experienced, but perhaps not sold.

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