The Megadungeon. A dungeon so vast and epic, players were expected to spend their entire lives plumbing its murky depths. A dungeon that might easily top 20 or 30 levels of sheer madness.
Feared by some, adored by others, and quickly becoming a relic of an older age of gaming. Now, sprawling epics that take the players from land to land, environment to environment, are more popular with both players and publishers. And who can blame them? Did the Fellowship of the Ring spend their lives exploring one damp, lonely old dungeon? No. Did Conan drop into the same fetid pit time after time, seeking to delve ever deeper? No. Heck, even Lara Croft, the world's most famous tomb raider, sought new locales after a hard day's plundering!
So why would gamers want to spend their entire campaign in some Kafka-esque hell that never really ends?
And yet, when done well, a Megadungeon (yes, I like to capitalize it to show off its awesomeness) can be extremely entertaining. Of course, I am clearly biased, as I love a good dungeon crawl. But before you discount the idea of a Megadungeon as mere ramblings from a lunatic who does not know the meaning of fun you should know that two of the biggest myths of the Megadungeon are easily debunked.
#1: The offer limited roleplaying.
#2: They are combat-oriented.
True, at first glance, it would seem a Megadungeon offers exceptionally limited opportunities for roleplaying, and it would also suggest a combat-oriented atmosphere, but neither assumption needs to be correct.
Firstly, the idea that roleplaying options would be limited is a fallacy, though one based in seemingly irrefutable fact. If you're trapped in a dungeon there is very little time for character growth or socializing.
But if the dungeon is used as a recurring location which the PCs are drawn to, then it stands to reason that there needs to be a location for rest and recuperation. And that is where the town or city comes in.
Designing a detailed town/city is the best chance for roleplaying a Megadungeon group has, and it should be used frequently, often before a delve and after a delve. By creating a cast of characters for your players to interact with, you give plenty of chances for roleplaying, so long as you follow up on subplots hinted in conversation and through player interest.
It helps to tie these subplots into the dungeon, but is hardly required. After all, one can go on a romp elsewhere, so long as the return to the primary location is assured. And allowing additional adventures while the party rests keeps the dungeon from becoming too much like a 'day job'.
As for a Megadungeon campaign being combat-oriented. Well...that is partly true. There will be a fair amount of combat. But only a poor GM would give the players no options. Negotionation, stealth, general cleverness, and an escape route should always be options. To enclose your players in a fight to the death will only serve to frustrate them and you. Reward creative solutions to the enemy problem, so that every delve doesn't turn into a hack-and-slash.
All of this has been on my mind lately, as I am in the process of preparing a Megadungeon to run in either 1e or 4e D&D. I'd hoped to have the first level ready to show off today, but it's not quite done. It'll definitely be here next week, along with more thoughts on Megadungeons, as I explore reasons you ought to consider a Megadungeon, even if at first glance it's not for you.
Have any of you played in/run a Megadungeon campaign before? If so, did you enjoy it? If not, why?