I’ve never been a huge megadungeon guy. Spending an entire campaign just clearing rooms and collecting treasure wasn’t something I was particularly interested in. (No judgement on people who enjoy it)
But the itch.io Megadungeon Jam has got me reconsidering the megadungeon, and how I might run one. It’s a one-year jam to encourage people to create their own megadungeon. I’ve been mulling over some ideas, and here’s what I’m starting with. This is very much a work in progress, and this is my first draft.
Once upon a time, there was a dungeon. It was pretty standard as dungeons go – built by a mad wizard, it is said, and over the centuries was ruled by a variety of masters: lich overlords, mad cultists, reptile godlings etc. Adventurers from across the known world would journey into its depths seeking fortune and glory (mostly fortune).
The Cursed Fellowship
Until that wretched day the Fellowship arrived. No one living knows their names. Their names have been stricken from the historical record as punishment for what they did, as if any mortal punishment could suffice. Due to this Damnatio memoriae, they are most commonly spoken of as the Fellowship or more often, The Cursed Fellowship.
Little is known of them. They were apparently a small band, including several warriors, a wielder of magic, a priest of a unknown god, and some kind of petty criminal (his role was unclear). They weren’t particularly different than the multitude of adventurers that came before them, presumably looking for riches and renown.
Somewhere, deep within the dungeon, the Fellowship awoke something. The nature of the Awoken is unknown. Some scholars claim it was extraplanar, others say Infernal. Neither makes a particularly compelling argument. Whatever it was, it blasted its way out of the earth, to the surface world above.
The Havoc Above
At this point, the historical record gets a little muddled. When the chaos began, there wasn’t a lot of time to write things down. What is known, is that the surface world quickly started to become uninhabitable. The laws of magic were the first to go, rendering spells and enchantments powerless or wildly unstable. Then the beasts arrived, unidentifiable monstrosities that rended and tore through any living thing they could find. No two descriptions of the beasts match. They seemed wildly Protean, changing from swarms of tiny insect-like creatures to behemoths the size of mountains. Their only commonality is that they seemed impossible to kill.
Soon the very laws of physical reality seemed to change; Gravity, light, even Time became variable. It is said that Causality itself started to break down in some places.
The only shred of hope was that the havoc reigning over the world seemed to have no effect below the surface of the earth. There was only one direction to flee from almost certain annihilation – Down.
Everyone who was able, soon fled into the depths of the dungeon, with whatever they could carry. They hoped it would be temporary, but they’ve been there for over three hundred years.
What’s left of the peoples of the surface world exist in a crowded community in the first few levels of the dungeon. The City has never been given an official name. The desperate refugees that founded it were too afraid to admit they would be spending the rest of their lives there.
The various peoples of the city have sovereignty over their separate domains. They cooperate by each sending a delegate to the Treaty Council with oversees the city as a whole.
Peoples of the City
The Orcish Republic
This is the golden age of the Orcish people. The paladins of the Orcish Guard protect the City from threats above and below. The high officials of the Orcish Senate rule wisely and justly. It’s also considered the high point of Orcish poetry and drama.
They’re doing as well as can be expected. Humans make up much of the merchant & artisan classes of the city. They also run most of the mushroom farms and rabbit herds that keep the City fed.
The goblins were here before anyone, and their experience has served the city well. They act as the Greeks to the Orcish Romans, providing counsel and support. Many of their number are the most skilled sages, scholars, and healers in the city. Their university is the finest bastion of knowledge left in the world.
You’d think the Dwarves would do well in a place like this, and mostly, you’d be right. However, the dwarves of the City have a belief that the underground dwarven kingdoms of old still exist, and if they explore deep enough and expand the tunnels far enough, they can find a way to get home.
Essentially the civil service of the City. They keep the infrastructure working. If it involves the structural integrity of the city, a gnomish city engineer has absolute authority.
Separated from the forests and glens, the elves have grown morose and insular. They rarely leave their neighborhoods, and prefer to wallow in nostalgia and regret. Their numbers have slowly declined over the centuries.
A few of the younger elves have come to believe that the only future for their kind, lies not in on the surface, or in this teeming city, but down below. Unknown to their sorrow-drunk elders, they’ve started dreaming of a goddess calling to them from the depths. A dark goddess…a spidery goddess.
Things to do
Go deeper: The city only takes up the upper part of the dungeon. Explorers can descend even deeper into the dungeon, not for shallow gold and glory, but for the greatest treasure of all – food. Anyone who can secure a new food source for the hungry city will be hailed as a hero.
Politics: A city full of factions vying for power and resources always provides opportunity for adventure.
Go Up: Not to the surface of course, that would be madness. But the tombs of the old world can be reached from below. There are also miners who dig upward, searching not for commonplace gold and jewels, but one of the rarest treasures in the city – wood. If a miner can find a usable old root of an ancient tree, they will have made their fortune. Possible fortunes, of course, attract trouble.