Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Empty Rooms in Megadungeons

This week I won't be doing a review of a megadungeon. I am finding doing one weekly is difficult and unable to sustain. I will shoot for every 2-3 weeks instead. Next up is Gunderholfen. 

Megadungeons largely follow a rule of 3. 1/3 of the rooms should be empty, 1/3 of the rooms should have a monster or trap, and 1/3 should have a treasure of some sort. Today I am going to focus on the empty rooms.

From a gameplay standpoint, empty rooms seem boring. A good DM changes this, however. Because megadungeons are huge, it is necessary to leave out unnecessary information. This is why rumors and dungeon dressing are often relegated to tables. Tables convey a lot of information in a concise space. However, a good DM with time will take these tables and assign things to empty rooms (or particular NPCs). Dungeons like Rappan Athuk and Dwimmermount give a lot of history that can also be incorporated into these "empty" rooms. 


When adding details to the empty rooms, look to the creatures that reside nearby. A smart DM can use these as foreshadowing of what's to come. Make one of the skeletons ahead missing an arm, that is laying in the empty room along the way. Put a broken tooth in a hastily drawn circle near the orc territory. Add humanoid shaped shed scales in a room near the kobold lair. 

Dungeon graffiti is another category that is often added by the authors of megadungeons. Often they intend for the graffiti to be used in these empty rooms. Taking this a step further, you could use the rival adventuring parties to add personalized graffiti. I often will leave notes like "The Brotherhood of Iron beat Tarina Wakelain to this spot on 12 Diven 128." It motivated players in ways that treasure hunting could not. Make the messages personal, but not attacking. Using both the author's graffiti and the personal messages makes a megadungeon feel alive, have a history and moving pieces in the present.

The hardest part of adding these parts to your empty megadungeon rooms is keeping track of them. In the 1990's I had to use index cards to keep track of the changes made. Today, we have OneNote (and OneDrive), Obsidian Portal, MS Word, Google Drive and Docs and a slew of other modern solutions. 

Notating the notes should be consistent. The following information is necessary (and should be concise) Dungeon level, room number, and page number. Adding a sub-room may be necessary as well. 

For example, in (I probably should have used a multi-level dungeon for this, but Barrowmaze was at hand.) Barrowmaze's file I would label the room: 

163 (pg 96): Blood on the north wall: We found our way here, but the clattering of bones is close by. I fear we shall soon join them.

59 Chamber 2 (pg 52): Stricken the Halfling (Blondie's character) took the studded leather but broke the sarcophagus lid in the process.