OSR The Basic/Expert Dungeon

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
It occurs to me that this “mostly abandoned ruin” setup seems directly at odds with the most common advice I see for running megadungeons: to make them living ecosystems full of various factions with which to interact.
 

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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Somehow it had not actually occured to me that you could stock a dungeon by rolling on the tables. Even though I did have to calculate the ratios from the random tables. Just have gotten so used to doing that for years. :LOL:

I wouldn't randomly generate a dungeon by rolling dice, even if I were to run in a generic D&D setting.
It's a fun exercise. I've generated multiple dungeons this way by taking a map found online, from Dyson Logos or elsewhere, then randomly generating stuff straight out of the tables. Often the random stuff starts your brain working on imagining connections, and then you make a few little tweaks to give it greater coherence and explain interrelationships between the different monsters, traps and special rooms, etc.

On the OSR pick up games server I played on for a while, one evening a group of us did this instead of playing a regular session. Just took a map, hung out and randomly generated a dungeon, brainstorming themes and connections and tweaks as we went.

Often I'll have some context/seed for at least one main treasure and/or foe there, but those can also be randomly generated using a resource like Matt Finch's Tome of Adventure Design. The Wandering DMs have designed a couple of dungeons live on stream in about an hour (or two, for the first attempt) this way. The two of them starting with a map, first generating a random theme, then randomly stocking the dungeon and brainstorming ideas to give it some cohesion.


Daniel from the Bandit's Keep channel also has an ongoing series of vids where he designs an adventure based on one of the seeds in the B/X books, with a lot of random generation of elements. Here's an example of one he designed, and then got a group to play as a one-shot:


Actual Play - BX D&D - They Once Were Gods
 
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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
It occurs to me that this “mostly abandoned ruin” setup seems directly at odds with the most common advice I see for running megadungeons: to make them living ecosystems full of various factions with which to interact.
You might think that, but they're not inherently contradictory. "Mostly" is a bit vague here.

Megadungeons are supposed to have significant space between monster lairs, which serves a few different functions. It adds verisimilitude, giving the monsters space they'd need to not be in constant conflict. It gives maneuvering room for the party to run from monsters, or to try to move AROUND and avoid a tough monster lair. It builds suspense and gives spaces to poke around in between monster encounters (rooms lacking monsters can still have tricks, traps, and hidden treasure). But searching empty spaces always has a bit of time tension, as your light burns down and you get random encounter rolls. Any given empty room could wind up being the site of an encounter due to wandering monsters.

Once a DM designs/rolls up a dungeon, it DOES make sense to organize the intelligent inhabitants into factions. Brainstorm a bit about interrelationships. But this doesn't mean the dungeon has to be FULL. The bugbears and the neanderthals could live on neighboring levels with a set of stairs, a hallway and a dozen rooms separating their territories, but the PCs could still cut a deal with one group to help them take on the other.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
You might think that, but they're not inherently contradictory. "Mostly" is a bit vague here.

Megadungeons are supposed to have significant space between monster lairs, which serves a few different functions. It adds verisimilitude, giving the monsters space they'd need to not be in constant conflict. It gives maneuvering room for the party to run from monsters, or to try to move AROUND and avoid a tough monster lair. It builds suspense and gives spaces to poke around in between monster encounters (rooms lacking monsters can still have tricks, traps, and hidden treasure). But searching empty spaces always has a bit of time tension, as your light burns down and you get random encounter rolls. Any given empty room could wind up being the site of an encounter due to wandering monsters.

Once a DM designs/rolls up a dungeon, it DOES make sense to organize the intelligent inhabitants into factions. Brainstorm a bit about interrelationships. But this doesn't mean the dungeon has to be FULL. The bugbears and the neanderthals could live on neighboring levels with a set of stairs, a hallway and a dozen rooms separating their territories, but the PCs could still cut a deal with one group to help them take on the other.
Yeah, I can see that.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Only tangentially relevant, but....
There's an old online game called Dungeon Robber over at "Blog Of Holding" which implements the random dungeon charts in the 1e DMG. It just procedurally generates a dungeon on the fly and lets you run a (simplified) random PC through it, unto death do you part. It also shows you it's logic on a dungeon-themed "meta-map" that shows those tables in a nice visual format.


It's not the Basic guidelines, but it's still fun to take for a spin and see how a random dungeon based on some of those original random tables works in practice.
 


Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
On the subject of procedurally-generated dungeons, and old-school dungeons in general, one item that will pop out at you the first time you try to generate a dungeon from these tables is Specials, AKA Tricks & Traps.

This is the item requiring the most creativity. Coming up with weird and magical stuff to interact with is the most demanding, but can produce some of the most fun parts of an adventure. But it can get quite difficult coming up with several of these in a given dungeon. Courtney Campbell has written an excellent guide for them:


Dan "Delta" Collins also has a good simple digest booklet of traps for OD&D, which is perfectly compatible with other old editions.

 

Retreater

Legend
I can't recall many old school adventures following this design advice ... maybe B1? Certainly the more memorable adventures drastically departed from this play style.
It's interesting from a game design theory, but I never really saw it in practice, and I think most of the advice in the early era was largely ignored, which is why it's forgotten today.
 

Yora

Legend
I believe that the Megadungeon is not actually a classic D&D thing. I think the dungeons under Castle Greyhawk might have been a case, but despite people being really curious about it, it was never released. The later module titled Castle Greyhawk was a very different thing.
I seem to remember people talking about how megadungeons only became popular at the very start of the oldschool revival, and even then only for a short while.

But you could indeed take a Moldvay dungeon and just make it a lot bigger. I used a 36 room dungeon as an example because it felt like a good size for "one adventure". Make it 360 rooms, and you'd have 120 monster groups in the dungeon. And players likely spending so much time in there that they might have another 120 random encounters on top of that.

One archetype of a megadungeon in fiction is the Conan story Red Nails. In that one, the underground city is almost completely empty and the heroes spend a good amount of time there before they even become aware that there are still people living in it.

A little snippet that occured to me and might be interesting to mention, even though it's obvious and banal in hindsight: When you use the wandering monster tables for different dungeon levels and adjust the size of monster groups bases on which level they are on, dungeon levels don't have to be floor levels.
If you have a giant tower, you can have three floors that are level 1, three floors that are level 2, and so on. Similarly, the first floor of a dungeon doesn't have to be a level 1 dungon. You can have a dungeon with four floors that are level 4, 5, 6, and 7.
Sorting the sizes of monster groups by dungeon level is a convenient way to make the players aware that they are moving into a new area with a different degree of danger. This allows them to calibrate the difficulty of their adventure, by chosing to descend a level where rewards a bigger when things are getting boring where they currently are, or to go back to somewhere less dangerous if they feel the current risk is too high. But those gateways between dungeon levels don't have to be stairs. A method that I think is very useful is to have some kind of notable doorway that stands out from the environment to highlight its significance, and to give each dungeon level a different look. Like in Super Metroid, the gold standard for dungeon exploration. :D You can have the ruined cellars be dungeon level 1, the caves dungeon level 2, and the ancient crypt dungeon level 3.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I believe that the Megadungeon is not actually a classic D&D thing.

The megadungeon was definitely a thing in the 70s, and arguably was the prime example of a dominant strain of thought in the hobby at the time (the other being the more character-driven experience primarily driven by the sci-if and west coast sides*).

The so-called MIT megadungeon (which was a meatgrinder) is a good example of this.

I would say that they fall out of favor in the early 80s when you had the explosion of popularity and a lot of younger players come in who were introduced primarily through the modules and who did not have the same exposure to the earlier culture.


*I am simplifying, and this doesn’t mean that there was some east coast/ west feud like the 90s. Pour one out for Tupac and Biggie.
 

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