D&D 5E Megadungeon delving as a campaign’s core; is it compatible with modern play?


The core aspect that players play DnD for has changed since the early days, while I myself am relatively new participant in the hobby in the grand scheme of things(My first real foray was with the 5e starter set) what I’ve gleaned from discussions is that the focus has shifted from dungeon delving as the core of the game to conquer the challenges presented within, where your character was more a faceless avatar for the player to interact through, to more modern playstyles where it’s more about telling/discovering the story of the characters you’ve created (not a criticism just an observation.)

Dungeons in the old games were sprawling labyrinths filled with traps, monsters and enemies, magic, puzzles, secrets and a whole host of other obstacles and megadungeons were the biggest baddest ones of them all where you could explore for months and still not discover everything it had to reveal, only coming out from underground for more supplies, offload the piles of gold that you couldn’t carry any more of or training your new character levels as that was a thing back then.

But my point is this: could megadungeons be made into viable environments for the current more character-focused playerbase, is it possible to synergise the two gameplay styles when the map only expands down instead of out and caverns and corridors are 90% of what you see instead of the horizons of forests, mountains, giant cities and frozen tundras? A game where you know you’re going to be coming back through these places over and over so instead of just casting flight on the party to cross that ravine you hire carpenters to build a sturdy retractable bridge, set up a protected outpost as a safe retreat in the monster infested halls and build a rapport with the inhabitants of the dungeon town every time you pass by? Do you mug that wandering salesman for all they’ve got or point them towards the corpses of your latest encounter saying they’re free to salvage anything of interest to them?

So I’d like to hear your thoughts on the viability of megadungeons as the setting of modern games, is it possible? Do you like the idea? How would you implement it in your own game?

Dungeon of the Mad Mage is a 5E Megadungeon, larger than most of the 1E megadungeons and it seems to be fine in play.

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The question ultimately comes down to the people at the table and what they are into. My sense is that most modern players like a more story and character driven campaign, which tends not to be the focus of a mega-dungeon campaign. I like a little of everything in my campaigns, so there's always room for a good dungeon, but I wouldn't want that or any other setting to be the sole focus.

As DM, I definitely would not want to run that kind of campaign - I think I would find it tedious. But it might be fun to play in one.


I don't think I could do an old-school mega-dungeon in 5e. Or for that matter any other game these days. I'm not sure if Princes of the Apocalypse counts as "mega" enough (13 distinct portions, although four of them are technically connected into a single level), but playing that made me pretty sick of dungeoneering.

The way I see it, a megadungeon worth the prefix should have multiple self-sustaining factions within it, with at least some geographic separation. That makes it more like a city or a barony than a classic dungeon. And much like I would not map out every street and alley in a city, I would not map out every corridor and every room in a megadungeon. I'd rather define various territories within the dungeon, with spheres of influence beyond their core territories (e.g. the goblins live here, and they send out patrols/gatherers in these parts, which somewhat overlap with the territory of the myconids, which creates some tension between them), and treat the majority of dungeon exploration as more of a hexcrawl. I'd reserve detail-level mapping for special locations within each territory.


I think the place where a lot of people find themselves bored and frustrated with megadungeon campaigning is thinking that the megadungeon IS the adventure, rather than WHERE adventures happen. Clearing room by room can be tedious, and in a proper megadungeon is pretty pointless anyway since the place is a living environment. If players instead have reasons to delve - -both personal link and "professional" reasons -- the megadungeon transforms into a place that develops and changes as they do. yes, they are always delving deeper for this reason or that, but they form relationships with the factions, the NPCs and the dungeon itself.

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