D&D General Is there a model for a megadungeon

I've been a die hard fan of the five room dungeon model for some time for those small and short experience.

However, is there a similar template for a megadungeon?

If not, what should a megadungeon entail for overall design?

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I've only dipped my toe in those waters with Dragon Mountain (which is more just a really really big dungeon with a unified theme, not a true megadungeon with multiple ecologies), but Dungeon Fantastic has the most comprehensive coverage I've found. There's a lot more to keep track of.

One principle – that dovetails into the "Jacquaying the Dungeon" article by Justin Alexander – is to use non-lethal exits and entrances. Sort of seems like a no-brainer, but it's crucial way to encourage meaningful player choice in how much risk they take on.


No flips for you!
I've been a die hard fan of the five room dungeon model for some time for those small and short experience.

However, is there a similar template for a megadungeon?

If not, what should a megadungeon entail for overall design?
The 5 room dungeon is scalable. Iterate on it. Start at a high level and set up a 5 section megadungeon. Be creative, you might even have a "room" snake between all the other rooms. Put down some ideas for each. Then you can drill down into one of these rooms and stat it out as another 5 room dungeon. Then drill down again. Now each of your initial sections has 25 rooms, for 125 total. You can vary the numbers, maybe do a 4 room structure here and a 6 room there. You can set up themes to represent stata or age -- such that each of the second to bottom tier room 3's are all share the same structural details and setting details.

The 5 room dungeon is a very powerful tool once you realize you can just iterate down with it.

I've been a die hard fan of the five room dungeon model for some time for those small and short experience.

However, is there a similar template for a megadungeon?

If not, what should a megadungeon entail for overall design?
Traditionally, you start out with a map. Look at these for examples: D&D General - Turgenev's Friday Freebie Maps

You then just work though it a room at a time thinking "what would make an interesting encounter?" It's also traditional that there doesn't have to be much logic behind them! If in doubt let the Monster Manual fall open at a random page.

No school like the old school!


I once started a 5-room inspired megadungeon that was a highway to Hades - the mythical path Orpheus walked from the surface to Hades' Realm. It consisted of many lairs and mini dungeons hanging off of main underdark passage (drawn similar to the underdark hex crawls from AD&D D1 and D2, Descent into the Depths of the Earth). I'm calling this out because I used the 5-Room Dungeon format for each of the lairs of mini dungeons. So there is a way to assemble a large dungeon which eventually is a megadungeon by compiling lots and lots of 5-Room Dungeons like lego pieces. This was back when "delves" were in vogue as well.

Beyond that I can't think of a megadungeon template - there are many methods. Paul Farquhar's suggestion is how I started back in the day!


If I was to make one, I would start with some interesting ideas on monsters and conflict before the map. Like Keep on the Borderlands and Sunken Citadel where the dungeon has a couple types of bad guts with their own agendas. Maybe there is an ultimate BBEG controlling them all, but the little chiefs on different levels and such do not know it.

There was some interesting stuff from the old Up on a Soapbox series with Gygax in the Dragon Magazines. He talks about adding secret doors that lead down a couple levels and bypass things and flavor encounters like the 'gold man' that the PCs never caught but chassed every time they could. @Quickleaf mentioned the Jaquaying articles that I would second for good ideas to make the maps less linear and more eventful.

Finally, when you are making the map, I would add areas that are safe and PCs can rest or gain knowledge of some sort. Maybe there is a hidden shrine with magical waters, or a statue that teleports them like a genie bottle.


Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
There's been a ton of theory and advice written on megadungeon play in the past decade or so in OSR circles, but I'm not sure there's a standard model, per se.

Jennell Jaquays is considered an important pioneer in dungeon design, with landmark late-70s designs like The Caverns of Thracia and Dark Tower being somewhat recently "rediscovered", so to speak, and hailed in recent years as marvels of interconnectedness, verticality, and player choice, allowing the navigation of the complex space to be more in control of the players and the adventures variable based on their decisions, as opposed to more linear dungeon designs. As someone mentioned above, Justin Alexander of The Alexandrian blog coined the term "Jaquaysing the Dungeon" to describe the process of analyzing dungeon maps and making your own designs have more loops and options for paths and create a richer play experience thereby.

This is kind of the opposite of the 5 Room Dungeon model, in a way, because of course the 5 Room model normally assumes a specific order of tackling the encounters, with a curated pattern of rising and falling action, whereas megadungeon design is normally more about creating an interesting environment which can be approached in different ways and orders, and in which navigation through the space is a challenge and major concern.

One free resource I enjoy quite a bit is Dyson's Delve, a "mini-megadungeon" of 11 small (around a dozen rooms each) levels, but which models megadungeon-style interconnectedness on a smaller scale, with a few sub-levels, an alternate entrance halfway down the dungeon, multiple paths up and down floors, monsters which can be grouped into factions and negotiated with (if the DM puts in a little work to flesh them out that way), etc. Paul Siegel of Wandering DMs has done a few very nice articles analyzing it as well, for a game he ran using it.

Megadungeons by definition tend to be large projects and bespoke creations; another designer you might want to study the work of is Greg Gillespie, who's made kind of a cottage industry of designing and publishing megadungeons. Barrowmaze, Forbidden Caverns of Archaia, Highfell, and I think Dwarrowdeep, now? For decades back in the day it seemed like megadungeons were understood to be a pillar of the original style of play, but TSR or other publishers never actually put out the original Greyhawk or Blackmoor, and later ones which were published in the 80s and 90s (like Temple of Elemental Evil, Dragon Mountain, and Undermountain) always seemed to be incomplete or focused on some sort of plot as had become expected in the post-Hickman, especially 2nd Ed era. It's only really in the last ten years or so (I guess actually thirteen, since Stonehell came out) that we've seen real, full-scale megadungeons become a commonly-published thing, although there are some attempts from earlier, like the Greyhawk Ruins book Daraniya linked, or Castle Whiterock.
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