Which Edition for a Megadungeon Campaign? Why?

delericho

Legend
I'd use 3.5e, because the megadungeon I own (Castle Whiterock) is for that edition. Or I'd use 5e, simply because it's my current go-to edition. Or I'd use 1st Ed, because it's one of three I've never run and it seems appropriate for something so old school.

As for what my megadungeon is like... dunno. I've never really given it a huge amount of thought - it's one of those things I've occasionally thought could be fun, but just never really gotten around to.
 

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S'mon

Legend
This forum section for older editions so 5E can't be an answer 😂😂😂.

I'd make it for BECMI. No skills to get in the way of narrative exploration. Get lots and lots explored per session so it doesn't take forever to complete!

I ran months of Stonehell in 5e, it worked ok but a bit slow. For that reason I think BX or BFRPG would be better as combat plays a lot faster.
 

Retreater

Legend
It's kind of a case of "pick your poison."
In TSR-era D&D, you have simple rules and speed, but a snowball's chance in Hades of actually surviving or making meaningful progress into the dungeon without being one-shot killed by a kobold or dying instantly to a poison needle trap.
In WotC-era D&D (and PF), you have somewhat slow and cumbersome rules, but greater tactical options and better odds of living through an encounter.
Honestly, if I were going to run a dungeon crawler, I'd just run HeroQuest or Descent, either of which would capture the experience better than D&D.
 

aco175

Legend
I think I would go with 3e so the players could make any character they wanted. I love those multiclass rules for 3e. There would be lots of combat and big magic reminiscent of the Gygax articles on the original Castle Greyhawk.
 

Reynard

Legend
Honestly, if I were going to run a dungeon crawler, I'd just run HeroQuest or Descent, either of which would capture the experience better than D&D.
I would argue -- rather vehemently, in fact -- that neither of those games is ANYTHING like a megadungeon exploration campaign. In fact, a megadungeon exploration campaign isn't the same genre as a "dungeon crawler" in the way you are putting it. You are talking about tabletop Diablo, which is not what a megadungeon campaign is.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Well, the Megadungeon that I most want to run is Eyes of the Stone Thief, and it was written for 13th Age, a d20 system that would do admirably for mega-dungeons. Eyes of the Stone Thief has won a lot of awards and accolades.

If I'm staying strictly within D&D editions, I think the strengths of 4e are a good match for what I look for megadungeons.
 

It's kind of a case of "pick your poison."
In TSR-era D&D, you have simple rules and speed, but a snowball's chance in Hades of actually surviving or making meaningful progress into the dungeon without being one-shot killed by a kobold or dying instantly to a poison needle trap.
In WotC-era D&D (and PF), you have somewhat slow and cumbersome rules, but greater tactical options and better odds of living through an encounter.
Honestly, if I were going to run a dungeon crawler, I'd just run HeroQuest or Descent, either of which would capture the experience better than D&D.
you could go with a “darkest dungeons” vibe and have each player responsible to 2-3 characters, some of which stay back at the home base
 

Retreater

Legend
I would argue -- rather vehemently, in fact -- that neither of those games is ANYTHING like a megadungeon exploration campaign. In fact, a megadungeon exploration campaign isn't the same genre as a "dungeon crawler" in the way you are putting it. You are talking about tabletop Diablo, which is not what a megadungeon campaign is.
They have combats, traps, treasure, leveling up, a little bit of story (as much as you'd like to add), secret doors - everything to craft a thematic, original dungeon.
HeroQuest was my Red Box/Basic D&D, so I'm definitely going to defend it as a viable, fun tabletop game that certainly meets the needs of dungeon fun for my players and me. Not the only option, but certainly a suitable one for me.
 

Hussar

Legend
Out of curiosity what do you do with random encounters or wandering monsters? Do they become ad hoc cinematic set pieces, or do you deal with them by way of a "combat skill challenge" (does 4E have a "fast battle" system like Savage Worlds?) or do you just not include random encounters?
I'd go with 4e as well, primarily because the unit that matters in 4e is the encounter. So, all that stuff about adventuring days and daily resource tracking, which in a mega dungeon doesn't work worth a damn, gets folded into the economy of 4e much more easily. Additionally, because 4e has a much broader range of encounter difficulty (you can generally go +/-5 levels for any given opponent) it's so much easier to fill in the dungeon without having to repeat monster after monster after monster that is pretty much the same as the last monster. An orc brute and an orc skirmisher are totally different monsters in 4e. In other editions, an orc is by and large an orc unless you start down the road of adding class levels and that's far too much work to prep.

As far as random encounters go, that's always been a myth that 4e doesn't do random encounters. That's just not true. Presumably random encounters would have a bunch of sort of "stock" random encounter maps to use, complete with a handful of stock terrain effects, and you're off to the races. It's very, very simple to do and because the math is very clear and open, you can judge the effects pretty quickly.

No, for my money, 4e would be the best system for a mega-dungeon. Just by far the best system for that amount of combat.
 

S'mon

Legend
I get the impression most posters here are not aware of what a 'megadungeon campaign' is in the OSR/old school D&D context. :(
Extended exploration and mapping of a very large simulated environment is a very important element of this kind of campaign. Resource management is a big factor - not necessarily torches & rations, but certainly spell slots & hit points. The game is played at strategic, operational & tactical levels, so a purely tactical RPG like 4e D&D is a very poor fit - and I have tried! Nor is it a story game like Dungeon World.

@OP Have you tried asking on a dedicated OSR forum? Eg Dragonsfoot has a Megadungeon dedicated forum Megadungeons - Dragonsfoot
 

LoganRan

Explorer
I'd personally favor a not-too-lethal system, just because is dull to have a TPK far from the opening and have the new party go through the already visited layers/levels.

For megadungeon, I'd go for having a party follow the tunnel of an ever-digging giant worms who swallowed your village/dear ones/whatever, so you go through various regions that the worm dug through, like a old necropolis, a dwarf-hold, a underground forest etc, hoping to catch up with the worm and take back what's yours. In the end, the worm itself could be one living dungeon.
Interestingly, I believe megadungeons actually are the campaign best suited for MORE lethal systems like ODD, B/X and AD&D. There isn't (or at least shouldn't be IMO) a "story" for a megadungeon so it is perfectly acceptable for a group to roll up an entirely new party because there is no long running narrative thread which will be lost at the moment of a TPK. Plus, it can be grimly amusing (if you are wired that way, and I am) for a party of freshly rolled PC's to see the groups former characters decorating the walls of the dungeon.
 
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Retreater

Legend
No. I was interested in what folks here had to say about it. It's true that the definition seems to have slipped, but it is kind of to be expected when WotC marketed DoMM as a megadungeon, which it isn't.
I'm curious of what published examples you would use to put us all on the same page, because I was reading "megadundeon" as "a big dungeon filled with rooms, hallways, traps, and monsters."
What pops into my head are Rappan Athuk, Barrowmaze, Temple of Elemental Evil, and The Caverns of Thracia. I'd also describe Undermountain as one, though the 5e version left much to be desired.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I get the impression most posters here are not aware of what a 'megadungeon campaign' is in the OSR/old school D&D context. :(
Extended exploration and mapping of a very large simulated environment is a very important element of this kind of campaign. Resource management is a big factor - not necessarily torches & rations, but certainly spell slots & hit points. The game is played at strategic, operational & tactical levels, so a purely tactical RPG like 4e D&D is a very poor fit - and I have tried! Nor is it a story game like Dungeon World.
What you are saying isn't incorrect, but it's only half the picture. I've done Undermountain and homebrew megadungeons back in AD&D 2nd days. I understand the strategic aspects - what do we have left, how can we camp safely, do we push, do we take this elevator down to what may be a lot more deadly, etc. You are right on all of that.

But a megadungeon is ultimately a narrower set of experiences vs. a full world. Exploration of a constrained type, puzzles, some RP with different groups, and lots of combat. So you need a system that can make all of those consistently interesting. Of D&D version, 4e normally isn't what I reach for first. But it is the only one to actually provide a complex challenge resolution framework with skill challenges. And combat in a megadungeon is often a larger percentage of play time because of how common it is and the heavy focus on set-piece combat with interesting terrain/hazards and lots of movement/area effects to interact with it is another strength of 4e.

So the issue is not that 4e is the perfect ruleset for it. The issue is that repetitive aspects of a megadungeon is where 4e is good at providing differentiation and therefore keeps things fresh. And therefore fun.
 
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Reynard

Legend
I'm curious of what published examples you would use to put us all on the same page, because I was reading "megadundeon" as "a big dungeon filled with rooms, hallways, traps, and monsters."
What pops into my head are Rappan Athuk, Barrowmaze, Temple of Elemental Evil, and The Caverns of Thracia. I'd also describe Undermountain as one, though the 5e version left much to be desired.
Of those you listed only Barrowmaze is a true megadungeon -- although Rappan Athuk may be at this point, since it has gone through major expansion and revision since it first appeared. I haven't seen the latest version. Both ToEE and Thracia are "big dungeons" which aren't the same thing.

The key difference at least as is usually discussed is that a megadungeon is dynamic underground environment where adventures take place -- not an adventure in and of itself. There are rooms and traps and treasure and monsters, of course, but there is no "plot." PCs enter and explore a megadungeon for lots of reasons, but none of them are "to clear it" since it can't be cleared.

In short "megadungeon" =/= "big dungeon."
 


mhd

Explorer
I've always been reluctant to play with megadungeons, as I like my occasional change of scenery and city adventures. So I guess that my "MD" would have a lot of features of those. Cultural centers, probably merging several different locations into a big whole, or at least several strata (!= levels) of a common theme that allow for some variation.

I'd ber tempted to use something like Knave for this, where by loot alone the PCs are set in motion. But if the premise is an official edition, I would probably opt for one of the following:
  • OD&D plus so many house rules that this entry might count as cheating. Spell points, no clerics etc.
  • Dragon Fist, where the stunt die would serve neatly for creative obstacle avoidance.
  • 3.0 – not 3.5, and only the core book. I like the original buff spells for exploration, the classes aren't that much bloated, but you still have some toys to play with.
 

Retreater

Legend
Of those you listed only Barrowmaze is a true megadungeon [SNIP]
So I can help with that, using Barrowmaze as an example. I've run it somewhat recently in 5e, for my wife and her brother who just wanted to run through something and kill a lot of monsters. I'd describe the 5e experience as not overly challenging at all or needing any real planning, strategy, or conservation of resources.
To do Barrowmaze "properly," I think you'd want to use B/X, OD&D, Old School Essentials, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, or another similar B/X or OD&D retroclone (they all play basically the same).
For any system you're considering, if you want a "classic old-school dungeon feel," I'd look for the following red flags:
1) 0-level spells/on-demand magic (especially Light, which makes torches unnecessary)
2) rapid healing (if it's more than 1/hp per day - without magic - it's probably too easy to heal and your party won't retreat from the dungeon to resupply and recover that often)
3) Perception checks (making die rolls to spot traps - or worse - Passive Perception; this lowers engagement with traps and the narrative description)
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I'm not that keen on megadungeon campaigns, but if I had to run one and couldn't use 5e, I'd go back to the AD&D 1e/2e hybrid that we played throughout the 1990s.

I'd skip the 3e family because I'm not that enamored of being so grid-bound in combat and the extra funky configuration options of 3e's multiclassing doesn't seem worth it for a dungeoncrawl. And I'd skip 4e because of the grid as well as the focus around the encounter as the unit of all resource management since resource management and rest should be an important aspect of a dungeon crawl - plus, I didn't particularly like the edition's gameplay either.
 

I'd recommend B/X or Old School Essentials without hesitation.
  • It is quick to create characters, characters are streamlined and simple allowing more focus on exploration of the dungeon and interacting with the environment.
  • It includes some very precise and detailed dungeon exploration procedures that help create structure to a dungeon crawl session.
  • Combat is fast in these games. You don't get bogged down too much with complex combat mechanics. Megadungeons are about exploration and discovery not about tactical combat. You want a system that gets combat over with quickly when it happens.
  • Reaction rules and morale allow more variety in encounters. Not every encounter needs to be a combat and reactions that end up being friendly or neutral can open up faction play which takes megadungeon exploration to higher levels.
  • Mixed characters can adventure together so you can easily get new players in the game (for West Marches style play). If a character dies it is quick to roll a new one and get them in the action (without worrying too much about balance).
  • They are easy to house rule and mod to your tastes. There's tons of content out there in that regards. If you need a little more character development, you can find a simple feat / skill system you can bolt on.

I'd highly suggest Old School Essentials if you do go that route. It is B/X but better organized. It is 100% compatible with anything written for B/X (or Labyrinth Lord for that matter). It also has an Advanced Fantasy line where it takes the classic AD&D classes (paladin, ranger, druid) and redesigns them in B/X. It gives you a best of both worlds situation where you can get all the class options of AD&D but with the simplicity of B/X.
 

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