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5E Sell me on a megadungeon

Mercurius

Legend
I want to buy a megadungeon for my impending new campaign, as one of the options to explore in a sandbox context. Right now my top three choices are:

1. Barrowmaze
2. Rappan Athuk
3. Forbidden Caverns of Archaia


I don't own any and they're all expensive, so just want to go with one for now. I do own the 3E versions of Whiterock, Larin Karr, Abysthor, Barakus, and Thracia, but both want something more "mega-y" and also already converted to 5E (I realize Whiterock is a true megadungeon, but the others are borderline). I also own Dungeons of the Mad Mage and the first Undermountain box set, so that could factor in.

Basically I want something easy to drop in and out of, with a relative diversity of rooms (minimal tedium ala Undermountain's many empty rooms). I would also like it to be interesting to read, with tons of tidbits of lore and mysteries. Unique creatures and magic items or artifacts are a plus.

Suggestions?
 

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dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
Some day I am going to have to dig out my old AD&D megadungeon, "Ultimatum", and convert it to 5E... maybe I'll even try to publish it. It has 88 levels and over 2000 encounters--more than enough to go from zero to hero LOL. I can't imagine how much it would cost to have the maps done professionally for publication, though. :eek:
 

Mercurius

Legend
Some day I am going to have to dig out my old AD&D megadungeon, "Ultimatum", and convert it to 5E... maybe I'll even try to publish it. It has 88 levels and over 2000 encounters--more than enough to go from zero to hero LOL. I can't imagine how much it would cost to have the maps done professionally for publication, though. :eek:

I am tempted to design my own, but at least want to buy one of the ones listed for inspiration. Nice thing about designing them is that you can basically build as you go. Plus, its just fun.
 

Retreater

Legend
I don't own the Forbidden Caverns of Archaia, but I can give you at least a bit of info about Barrowmaze and Rappan Athuk (and contrasting them with Dungeon of the Mad Mage).
First, I've run sections of Rappan Athuk and a few levels of Dungeon of the Mad Mage. Read through Barrowmaze, but haven't run it yet.
Here are some snippet reviews...
Rappan Athuk - A true megadungeon, with over 600 pages of dungeon material, numerous side levels and interconnected passages to explore. It's a true Jacquays-style dungeon. It has been built up over decades of play by numerous designers, and there is a lot of flavor. It's also going to be kind of complex and challenging to run. Each level is full of character and inspiration.
Barrowmaze - Has a great town to interact with, numerous small crypts before you get into the "dungeon" proper. It has a more old school, linear layout when you get into the dungeon itself, not a lot of various levels and such. It's also written by a single designer, so it's more thematic, but also probably less "lived-in" feeling and diverse than Rappan Athuk. It is has a more modern layout and is better organized than RA, so it would be easier to run.
Dungeon of the Mad Mage - It's probably the worst megadungeon I've seen in recent memory. Your players can explore for hours in real life and find nothing of interest. It's ... uninspired (to put it nicely).
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Hey, have I got a mega dungeon for you! This is a piece of art that put the mega in mega dungeon if you know what I mean. This baby has it all! Killer traps, loads of monsters, so many levels you'll lose count! Best yet, it's only been explored by a group of little old ladies from Pasadena. I mean, sure it has a few rough edges, but what dungeon doesn't? I mean, who doesn't want a bit of a fixer-upper, am I right?

So what do you say? I've got the other buyers on the line real interested in this baby so you better jump on it now, I'm not sure how long it's gonna last!

Oh, wait. You want me to sell you on one of those mega dungeon modules? Well then, never mind. :blush:
 

Mercurius

Legend
@Retreater , I've read really mixed reviews. Of course experience differs, but I've seen enough opinions like yours to turn me off of running it. I may steal bits and pieces if I design my own.

@Oofta , shades of Dwimmermount there ;).
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
I am tempted to design my own, but at least want to buy one of the ones listed for inspiration. Nice thing about designing them is that you can basically build as you go. Plus, its just fun.
The biggest thing IME of designing the Ultimatum was the story. If you can come up with some real reason for such a dungeon to exist, it makes exploring it so much more fun. :)

But, give it a try and just go one level at a time (or so). :)
 

Voadam

Hero
I recently read through a bunch of Barrowmaze, it does the horizontal level with barrows so east to west or whichever direction gives you the toughness gradient. Be aware it has a heavy undead theme which is pretty harsh in the OSR Labyrinth Lord, but much more forgiving in 5e mechanics.

Rappan Athuk has been a while but IMO was decently interesting and mixed to start but there comes a point with a city ton of goblins which looked like it could bog down. 5e does a better job of them being relevant in combats with bounded accuracy, but if it is a place to pop in and out it will probably work better than a dedicated slog. It's overall theme is Orcus.

I do not have the third one but it is more stuff from the Barrowmaze guy.

Right now for the next week Frog God Games has its 50% off sale so it is a decent time to pick up Rappan Athuk. For 5e it is $25 for the PDF, if you just want the inspiration it is $12 in Swords & Wizardry and Pathfinder editions. Check out the other Frog god stuff as well, a ton of others with some really deep sales on some in some editions, like Slumbering Tsar, 852 pages of Orcus wasteland and base megadungeon in Pathfinder for $6.
 

ninjayeti

Adventurer
If you are just looking for lots of content that your PCs may only see a part of I think FCoA might be the best bet of the three. It isn't really a megadungeon at all - it is more like Caves of Chaos expanded to campaign length. There is a moderate sized wilderness with various humanoid tribes having lairs within them. It struck me as being a bit too much of a grind to run straight through but it could be useful for what you are looking for.

Rappan Athuk - I only owned the 3E version of this so it has been a while but my recollection was that it was very much a "deathtrap" dungeon. I you want to run a game about cleverly killing PC's (or PC's cleverly escaping certain death) it does that well but I don't know that it would mesh well with a more conventional campaign.

Barrowmaze - Is designed as an "old school" dungeon experience. It is intended to use a lot of the mechanics like wandering monsters, encumbrance, XP for treasure, henchmen, etc. I ran a few sessions of it using Labyrinth Lord years ago and it went great, but I think if you wanted to use it like a standard 5E dungeon you would end up with the TV cut of a Tarintino movie - you are eliminating most of the stuff the creator though made it great. The lore is pretty minimal and you are mostly fighting various undead (some cultists and mongrelmen tossed in for variety) in order to take their treasure.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Thanks, @Voadam . Tempted to pick up Rappan Athuk up just to browse for ideas, but I have a hard time spending $25 on a PDF - even for all of those pages. I'm old-fashioned.

I watched a (rather entertaining) comparison video of Barrowmaze and Rappan Athuk that convinced me towards the former, partially due to it including tons of fun art, while evidently RA has pages upon pages of text only, making it harder to digest. Here's the video:

 

Mercurius

Legend
If you are just looking for lots of content that your PCs may only see a part of I think FCoA might be the best bet of the three. It isn't really a megadungeon at all - it is more like Caves of Chaos expanded to campaign length. There is a moderate sized wilderness with various humanoid tribes having lairs within them. It struck me as being a bit too much of a grind to run straight through but it could be useful for what you are looking for.

Rappan Athuk - I only owned the 3E version of this so it has been a while but my recollection was that it was very much a "deathtrap" dungeon. I you want to run a game about cleverly killing PC's (or PC's cleverly escaping certain death) it does that well but I don't know that it would mesh well with a more conventional campaign.

Barrowmaze - Is designed as an "old school" dungeon experience. It is intended to use a lot of the mechanics like wandering monsters, encumbrance, XP for treasure, henchmen, etc. I ran a few sessions of it using Labyrinth Lord years ago and it went great, but I think if you wanted to use it like a standard 5E dungeon you would end up with the TV cut of a Tarintino movie - you are eliminating most of the stuff the creator though made it great. The lore is pretty minimal and you are mostly fighting various undead (some cultists and mongrelmen tossed in for variety) in order to take their treasure.

This is quite helpful and actually makes me not want to pick up FCoA, as I'm not a fan of Caves of Chaos; I found lair after lair of humanoids to be a bit boring. I guess I like the diverse--if unrealistic--approach of a Tsojcanth.

Similarly with RA - maybe not quite wanting to do the death-trap thing. And your take on Barrowmaze also makes me hesitate, but it sounds so well made that it would be useful to own to design my own, which I'm veering more towards.
 

Monayuris

Adventurer
I want to buy a megadungeon for my impending new campaign, as one of the options to explore in a sandbox context. Right now my top three choices are:

1. Barrowmaze
2. Rappan Athuk
3. Forbidden Caverns of Archaia


I don't own any and they're all expensive, so just want to go with one for now. I do own the 3E versions of Whiterock, Larin Karr, Abysthor, Barakus, and Thracia, but both want something more "mega-y" and also already converted to 5E (I realize Whiterock is a true megadungeon, but the others are borderline). I also own Dungeons of the Mad Mage and the first Undermountain box set, so that could factor in.

Basically I want something easy to drop in and out of, with a relative diversity of rooms (minimal tedium ala Undermountain's many empty rooms). I would also like it to be interesting to read, with tons of tidbits of lore and mysteries. Unique creatures and magic items or artifacts are a plus.

Suggestions?
Of the three listed. I would recommend Rappan Athuk.

It has great variety, lots of lore attached to it, and some very interesting set pieces. It also has tons of interconnectivity which always makes for a good megadungeon.

Barrowmaze is excellent. It is a little heavily focused on the undead (obviously). It may be a little too monotonous.
Forbidden Caverns of Archaia didn't really reach the same level of quality as Barrowmaze. (Your post above matches my own opinion.)

Other options that you may want to consider...

Stonehell dungeon. Not converted to 5E, but easily adapted on the fly. Very well organized and definitely mega-y. Two books about $10 each as PDF's give you about 13 levels each counting 120+ rooms.

Castle Xyntillan. I have only experienced this as a player, but this is possibly one of the greatest dungeons I have ever played in. It could very well be the talent of the DM, but this dungeon is filled with mystery and wonder. I have been playing D&D for over 30 years and this one constantly surprises and intrigues me. I have not run it and I don't own it, but it may be worth checking out.

I almost want to quit the game and buy it so I can run it for my own group.

It is that good.

It is also not converted to 5E, but I don't that matters all that much. Its strength is in the intangible 'non-rules' elements. The feel and the vibe will come through in any edition.
 
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Monayuris

Adventurer
I recently read through a bunch of Barrowmaze, it does the horizontal level with barrows so east to west or whichever direction gives you the toughness gradient. Be aware it has a heavy undead theme which is pretty harsh in the OSR Labyrinth Lord, but much more forgiving in 5e mechanics.
I actually think heavy undead would be a lot easier with Labryinth Lord. Turn Undead is a lot more powerful in LL than it is in 5E. Level drain is worse in LL, but if you are of appropriate level, clerics can Turn Undead more frequently than they can in 5E, so it may balance out.

I do like the overland barrows that you can explore. It also has a nifty barrow generator that you can use outside of the context of the book (great for hex crawls or rolling up a quick lair).

Rappan Athuk has been a while but IMO was decently interesting and mixed to start but there comes a point with a city ton of goblins which looked like it could bog down. 5e does a better job of them being relevant in combats with bounded accuracy, but if it is a place to pop in and out it will probably work better than a dedicated slog. It's overall theme is Orcus.
RA is huge and I'm sure there are areas that may not work well in some systems. I think RA was originally written for 3E, then converted to Swords & Wizardry and then converted again to 5E.

It is difficult to trace the lineage of conversion and it may impact the quality of the 5E end result. When I deal with products that are not 5E, I go with the older the better. In many cases, I would rather convert the Swords & Wizardry version to 5E on the fly than use the actual 5E version. This holds true for Barrowmaze. I would rather take the original Barrowmaze for Labryinth Lord and convert on the fly than buy Barrowmaze 5E.

Most conversions do what I would do anyway, and by having the original, I can run in both 5E and the intended rule-set.
 


amethal

Adventurer
I am a big fan of Rappan Athuk (although I'm not familiar with the 5th edition conversion) and I think it works well for a drop in/out game, and it has a lot of variety. Given the choice, that's the one I'd pick. Some parts of it are very dangerous, which might come as a shock to players unused to that kind of game.

I like Barrowmaze as well, but it is heavily undead-themed and I don't know how well it would work as a 5th edition adventure, with the way turn undead has changed over the editions.

I bought Forbidden Caverns because of how much I liked Barrowmaze (and High Fell), but for some reason it hasn't grabbed me. It comes across as pretty bland compared to Greg Gillespie's other stuff.
 

Monayuris

Adventurer
I am a big fan of Rappan Athuk (although I'm not familiar with the 5th edition conversion) and I think it works well for a drop in/out game, and it has a lot of variety. Given the choice, that's the one I'd pick. Some parts of it are very dangerous, which might come as a shock to players unused to that kind of game.

I like Barrowmaze as well, but it is heavily undead-themed and I don't know how well it would work as a 5th edition adventure, with the way turn undead has changed over the editions.

I bought Forbidden Caverns because of how much I liked Barrowmaze (and High Fell), but for some reason it hasn't grabbed me. It comes across as pretty bland compared to Greg Gillespie's other stuff.
How is High Fell?

I passed on it due to being disappointed with Archaia.

Although, to be fair, I did use some of it in my hex crawl. I basically broke out the smaller mini lairs as independent locations. I also liked the henge gate idea.

I heard High Fell has a wizard tower generator?
 

amethal

Adventurer
How is High Fell?

I passed on it due to being disappointed with Archaia.

Although, to be fair, I did use some of it in my hex crawl. I basically broke out the smaller mini lairs as independent locations. I also liked the henge gate idea.

I heard High Fell has a wizard tower generator?
It's been a while since I looked through it, but I'm pretty sure it does have a wizard tower generator.

The idea of a dungeon that flies about at random, and can end up in some pretty unusual places - with environmental consequences for anybody who happens to be exploring it at the time - really appealed to me. (As does the occasional pit trap sending the PCs all the way down to the ground below, but maybe I'm just a sadistic GM.)

Outside of the towers, if you were to pick out an actual encounter at random I might not be able to tell if it came from High Fell or from Archaia. However because the context of High Fell is much more interesting I'm willing to accept a few mundane encounters, or spend the time modifying them to make them more appealing to me.
 


Mercurius

Legend
So I ended up splurging a bit. I bought hard copies of Rappan Athuk and Xyntillan, and a PDF of Barrowmaze (might get a hardcopy eventually, if I love it). Noble Knight had the first two lightly used, and I jumped on not having to pay shipping on Xyntillan (it usually costs $25 to the US). So I'll have a lot to browse through. Not sure which route I'll take, but probably either have all three within the sandbox environment as options for the PCs to explore and/or take bits and pieces of each--or simply use them as inspiration--to design my own.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
My experiences in mega-dungeons have been... not so great. You get weary of it after a while.

If you want a large dungeon but one that is a complete adventure you can finish (125 ish rooms), then I highly recommend the Gates of Firestorm Peak :)
 

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