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Drawing a Big Dungeon Map--Help?

Lackofname

Explorer
I've been hit with some inspiration and I want to try to run a particular campaign, but I'm not quite sure how to get the square peg into the round hole that is my brain.

The inspiration for the game's start is Half-Life. For those who haven't played it, scientists at a top-secret research facility play with extra-dimensional tech and wind up bridging the gap to alien landscapes. I liked the idea of a huge lab gone crazy. But rather than be employees, I like the idea of characters waking up with amnesia, trying to figure and explore their way out.

In my campaign, it's an underground facility in a fantasy setting, and it does get partially pulled into the Far Realms, but they aren't only monkeying with the dimension. For instance, one sector is creating and storing cloned bodies that are meant as empty vessels for rich/powerful entities to inhabit, as a type of immortality. The PCs are a few of those cloned bodies, unintentionally waking up after The Accident.

What I need help with is two things.

1. Understanding the reasoning behind the compound itself. It will be Big and Underground. Why is it so big? How did it get built? My mind is sort of stuck on "underground skyscraper, one square with identical floor below the next", but that's boring and too easy to navigate, and honestly doesn't fit a fantasy setting.

2. Actually mapping the compound. I don't mean room by room so much as a general idea of sections. Looking at mega-dungeon maps I feel a bit overwhelmed, and they don't really fit what I am looking for--they seem far too much like an ant's nest than anything neat and tidy. While the place will have some ant-nest to it (it has breached the Far Realms, which will both have pockets of funtime insanity AND play with 3D spatial reasoning), I need the base to feel...well...reasonable.

Any help would be appreciated.
 
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ninjayeti

Adventurer
The facility is big because it needs lots of different subsections for different purposes: cloning lab, construct lab, weapons lab, living quarters, detention level for test subjects, etc. Figure out what sections you need then think about what goes in each section. The cloning lab will have a plush "transfer room" where the PCs wake up, sterile growth vats with proto-clones, a recycling room where corpses get broken down into raw materials, etc. From there you should be able to make maps that feel believable.

I think if each section is thematic and distinct, as well as having cohesive elements that tie the individual levels together the base will feel reasonable to the PCs. They are probably never going to see a blueprint of the overall layout, but if they can understand what each section is and what they might find there it will make sense to them.

You could also say that the facility used to have a portal system that let people just teleport between areas which was destroyed in the Accident. Now the portals are broken the PCs need to move around the old fashioned way and the layout of the facility is not designed with that kind of travel in mind.
 

Nytmare

David Jose
Limestone caverns are frequently used/reused as storage facilities.


Also just because the group can figure out the basic layout of a dungeon doesn't mean that it becomes trivial to navigate it. I ran Monte Cook's Bane Warrens and converted the map essentially as an underground skyscraper. I set it up symmetrically because it was meant to have been originally built as a workplace and being able to get around and not lost was important. But that doesn't mean that it was simple for adventurers or thieves to get around, magical and mundane traps that keyed off of the identity of the person or that armed themselves if locks or doors were forced or opened improperly made every couple of steps possibly deadly.

The story in my modified version of the Bane Warrens was that a wizard and his gang of adventurers spent about a thousand years gathering up every evil artifact that they could (and not just like a mean sword or something, every one was a different flavor of world ending doomsday device), and hid all of them in a deathtrap filled dungeon that they built in a backwater, garbage dimension where no one would ever think of looking for them.

The game world however was that backwater dimension a couple thousand years later after the combined power and evil of the Bane Warrens had seeped out and warped the dimension around it giving rise to the local pantheon of gods and men.
 

Lackofname

Explorer
I just mean that the blueprint is more for my conceptualization. :) That and the how/why of the place, it seems immensely huge of an undertaking.

For the record, the PCs will actually be waking up in a surgical area in the Weapons sector. They were being experimented on when the Accident happened, and were left behind. I want the fact the PCs are clones to be a big reveal, if/when they reach the clone labs.

You could also say that the facility used to have a portal system that let people just teleport between areas which was destroyed in the Accident. Now the portals are broken the PCs need to move around the old fashioned way and the layout of the facility is not designed with that kind of travel in mind.
I love this. Getting a portal working can even be a mini-objective.
 
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Lackofname

Explorer
Also just because the group can figure out the basic layout of a dungeon doesn't mean that it becomes trivial to navigate it. I ran Monte Cook's Bane Warrens and converted the map essentially as an underground skyscraper. I set it up symmetrically because it was meant to have been originally built as a workplace and being able to get around and not lost was important. But that doesn't mean that it was simple for adventurers or thieves to get around, magical and mundane traps that keyed off of the identity of the person or that armed themselves if locks or doors were forced or opened improperly made every couple of steps possibly deadly.
What I meant in terms of navigation is like, you have a stairwell that has one big staircase that goes from bottom to top. Even if the door you want is locked, you can skip multiple levels. As opposed to most dungeons where the stairs up and down are often located in different locations, because reasons.

And while I certainly will use a deathtrap or two, the lion's share of the threats will be the Far Realms horrors. Traps that only arm when the door is forced is great. Though I already had planned about key access, yes.

That and, I really dig your setting, Nytmare. The idea of the evil leaking out andhaving a significant impact reminds me of Demonreach in the Dresden Files series.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
My go-to is to have the complex, or at least significant parts of it, be something built by an older culture, maybe for purposes unknown. That doesn't need to play into the actual campaign much unless you want it to, but it does give you a way around having to have every bit look purpose built for what it currently does.
 

Nytmare

David Jose
What I meant in terms of navigation is like, you have a stairwell that has one big staircase that goes from bottom to top. Even if the door you want is locked, you can skip multiple levels. As opposed to most dungeons where the stairs up and down are often located in different locations, because reasons.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with giving the players the ability to "skip" levels. (there's actually a philosophy of dungeon design that encourages it Jaquaying the Dungeon) Just make sure to give them reasons as to why they might need to go there. The access keys they have don't work on doors that aren't "Yellow Access" and they need to go to the special security offices on 3 to get them reprogramed so that will grant them access to levels 5-8. Those doors on level 4 were where those ogre looking things had holed up, but this journal says that that's where Experimental Regeneration Testing was conducted and that's probably where the healing potion storage they keep hearing about is.

Also there's no reason why a central, or organized system of staircases/elevators/teleporters needs to work as expected. Elevators break, stairwells get blocked, teleporters malfunction There's some kind of obvious displacement field that starts in this stairwell after the 10th level that teleports people to a random location on the 4th floor. The stone shelf "elevatrum" grinds to a halt and the party can't figure out how to repair it, the geared path it followed is easy enough to climb, but there's no obvious way to get past it to the lower floors. The stairwell is flooded, the steps continue down a few feet before they disappear in the churning murky water.
 

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
A mega-Dungeon is no different from a town or a city and the needs are much the same.

One I have used is a pit mine in reverse, create each level and bury it and then the next, working up to the surface then build a town or city on top of it. Watching shows like Underground Marvels or Mystery of the Abandon are great. (The Nazis put everything underground and built BIG.)

As far as what is in it, things you find in every building, town or city:
  1. Ways in and out & connect levels and rooms - exits and Air Flow
  2. Waste disposal - it all has to go somewhere
  3. Food Production
  4. Housing or sleeping areas
  5. Recreation & workout areas
  6. Storage and Parking
  7. Office Areas or business areas
  8. Maintenance
  9. Power Supply - nuclear power plants are quite large
 

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