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D&D General Designing Adventure: Can a Megadungeon... not be a dungeon at all?


I think that's actually a very old method to raise the risk of exploring by flight. Though it only increases the risk, it doesn't prevent the possibility. The area still has to be designed to consider it.

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CR 1/8
A megadungeon is a really big dungeon designed for crawling.
OK, more details. Well a megadungeon IS a big dungeon, often spawning several floors, each floor containing several rooms. The dungeon itself usually has several entrances from the outside.
A megadungeon is not just a big dungeon in the sense that it come with more than a list of room and their content. You usually got a description of the surroundings, a history of the dungeon itself, a description of the different factions of monsters and their relations, etc. Since megadungeons are huge and are intended to last for more than a few sessions of play, the sandbox aspect is often emphasized more than in a regular dungeon.

To me, a "megadungeon" (as a design term, anyway) implies a great degree of confinement, both as a limitation on movement and as a limitation on access to information about the place. That's why it's easy to conceive of megadungeon as big underground complexes: you just can't see very far! But I can also envision a dense forest working as a megadungeon, though not an expansive plain or the ocean. Likewise, a towering, hard to navigate megalopolis might be structured as a megadungeon; while a cluster of villages and farms probably couldn't be.

This notion of confinement obviously changes as PCs become more capable. The floor of a basic hedge maze is sufficiently confining for a a handful of zero-level newbs. Otoh, it's a lot harder to confine 20th level PCs with access scrying and planeshift, so it's harder (for me!) to envision what a megadungeon might look like at those highest levels.

Additionally, I tend to think of a megadungeon as something that spans multiple experience levels-- perhaps an entire tier or two. For this reason, a party tends to revisit them as they level up. And it's not uncommon for PCs to abandon the megadungeon for several sessions before returning to it-- possibly even stumbling back into via a different entrance.


Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I don’t see any reason a “megadungeon” needs to be underground. Sure, that restricts exploration by flight, but you could also use flight as a gating mechanism in the design of a mega-adventuring-location-that-isn’t-technically-a-dungeon. Most parties won’t have access to flight until around 5th level, so you could just count on them being able to fly at that point and have areas not be accessible without flying. Also, flight then becomes a shortcut through earlier areas, another feature of Soulslike map design.


Maybe a good designer could turn the Mournland or the Demon Wastes in Eberron in to mega dungeons, or at least some iconic parts of them. Metrol or Ashtakala....


A suffusion of yellow
Im reminded too of the Island of Time from the Prince of Persia series which similarly was an above ground mega-dungeon. Really any large sprawling building works

I’ve been rereading some of the Fighting Fantasy books and really Port Blacksand (City of Theives) is a mega dungeon with a lot of social encounters as you search through to find Nicodemus and defeat Zanzar Bone.

So if you think more broadly that any sprawling complex of interconnected areas is a mega-dungeon then Cities become dungeons, even a wilderness map can be a mega-dungeon
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Thick forests can make excellent mega-dungeons.
They can contain a variety of encounter areas beneath their shadowy canopy; streams, grottos, stone circles, caves, sinkholes, ruins etc.
They also partially negate the “flying problem” by creating a challenging barrier (the canopy) which may be penetrated, but can be difficult to influence from above to below and vice versa.....you can see the blue butterflies above, but have to descend through the branches to save your friends from the giant spiders.

Aging Bard

The cult Avalon Hills board game Magic Realm is an outdoor hexcrawl will all kinds of crazy channeling, monster hunting, and treasure looting. Totally a megadungeon.

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