Which Edition for a Megadungeon Campaign? Why?

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen
As Reynard said, you can have plot and stories IN and around a mega-dungeon, but typically they are things that happen within it- it does not exist principally to service a given plot.

I don't think it exclusively has to be played in a Rogue-like fashion, either, but navigating the space and "solving" navigation puzzles are definitely part of the point, which makes it not 100% suited to 4E.

I did run Thunderspire Mountain in 4E back in the day, which was an interesting 4E-style take on a megadungeon. Instead of pages and pages or poster maps of mapped dungeon levels, 4E abstracted the vast majority of the labyrinth, providing a single high-level map showing relative positions of special and important locations (some of them detailed in the module, others briefly described for the DM to develop if desired). Skill checks could be used to navigate around the dungeon, and there was a list of random encounters, some or most of which had some connection to various sub-plots in the dungeon. If I rolled one I'd pull out a random dungeon battle map to represent wherever the encounter happened to occur. Detailed battle maps were given for planned set-piece encounters, and a map was given for the Seven-Pillared Hall, a small town of sorts, the base camp for various explorers and adventurers delving Thunderspire, run by a group of mages with their own agendas. I enjoyed it a good bit and as I recall my players did too.

I do think OSE or B/X, with a couple of house rules, would be my first choice for such a campaign. I used Labyrinth Lord a bit when I first started exploring the OSR, but I'm not super into the rules departures it makes.
 
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Reynard

Legend
I do think OSE or B/X, with a couple of house rules, would be my first choice for such a campaign. I used Labyrinth Lord a bit when I first started exploring the OSR, but I'm not super into the rules departures it makes.
Out of curiosity, what rules departures does it make?
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen
Out of curiosity, what rules departures does it make?
Mostly lots of little stuff.

Changes to the xp charts.
Giving Clerics a spell at 1st level.
Expanding advancement to 20th level.
Adding 7th-9th level spells.
Adding more (mostly redundant) weapon and armor options from AD&D.
Making alterations to the treasure types, dungeon-stocking, and Reaction tables which are kind of arbitrary and create confusion if you're already accustomed to the B/X or OSR ones (or trying to use material written for one game while running the other) etc.

Some of the changes were understandably intended to reduce legal exposure and reduce the chance of an IP violation claim by WotC back when retroclones were less-charted territory and folks were being more cautious, but turned out not to really be necessary.
 
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timbannock

Adventurer
TL;DR: OD&D and B/X are the best older editions. Preferably using Delving Deeper or Old School Essentials (respectively) for ease of use. But if your group hates some major aspect of old school gameplay -- mapping dungeons, tracking resources, or something else -- then consider an OSR game that does away with or modifies that specific piece. Knave gets my recommendation, with Five Torches Deep as runner up.

Long Version:

After seemingly countless years of test-driving OSR games and the original editions they've been based on ever since Castles & Crusades was released, I've pretty much landed on this viewpoint regarding megadungeons, specifically:

If your group is into the old school gameplay loop -- primary goal is getting treasure, secondary goal is exploring the campaign setting's backstory; mapping, resource-tracking, and general survival are all on the table -- you really can't beat OD&D (by way of Delving Deeper) or B/X (by way of Old School Essentials). These editions just have the most tightly wound mechanics (bounded accuracy, consistent X-in-6 chance of doing so-and-so for each character) sitting alongside the least complex/intrusive tools (encounters happen X in 6 turns, light runs out in X turns, wandering monster tables by dungeon level, oh and here's a simple but comprehensive hexcrawl system to get from site to site).

IMHO the two OSR games I mention organize the info a thousand times better than the original sources, and have the hindsight of errata and rules-as-intended to clarify vague bits. I was always a fan of "more options" in terms of races/classes until I read a great series of forum posts in various spots about why the Thief class kinda messes with the balance of the dungeon exploration mechanics, so those feelings have caused me to prefer Delving Deeper/OD&D without any supplementary classes (I'd argue for maybe including a ranger and/or druid in hexcrawl campaigns), but if you love your Thief class -- and especially if you like the ability to layer in more options like the Advanced Fantasy stuff on occasion -- then OSE is superior.

(I'm currently using Delving alongside the AD&D MM1, MM2, and Fiend Folio, and finding it's just as fun and makes hexcrawling/wilderness stuff a bit more interesting. I suspect they are equally handy for a megadungeon in order to keep the challenges fresh and interesting, rather than relying on too many of the same types of monsters over a dozen levels.)

If your group is not interested in any one (or more) of the major gameplay loop pieces, then I feel like the real best answer is not an older edition, but an OSR game that gets the "feel" right and does away with the parts you don't like. For example, Five Torches Deep greatly cuts down on gear resource tracking, plus it's broadly compatible with 5e and B/X. I absolutely adored FTD -- everything Sigil Stone puts out is so good! -- but I ultimately enjoyed the equipment stuff, and in fact, think that should be a bigger deal than class features and such. That lead me to Knave and its many hacks. It can work great with the megadungeon stuff, but having a universal system for rolling ability tests also allows you to simplify/ignore the parts of megadungeons your group hates. That could be mapping, or it could be appraising treasure, or making stealth checks, etc.

(I'm a little worried about higher level Knave and how the characters will eventually be awesome at finding and avoiding traps whereas OD&D and the like have a mostly static "you always kinda suck at this" thing going on, but it's easy to just rule that traps are still 2-in-6 and characters only use their ability checks for saves in Knave. Leaning into using Knave's ability checks as saves [which is what they are called in that game, after all], you can literally run OD&D on your side of the screen and the players run Knave on their side, and there's very little dissonance.)

Oh, and a bonus (that is a slap in the face of the fact that this is the older edition forum, but I'll say it anyway) is the D&D 5e equipment chapter is the absolute best IMO, and works in any edition. You could argue against variable damage and/or ascending versus descending Armor Class based on your preferences, for sure, but the gear write ups of how things like burning oil, acid, caltrops, ball bearings, and holy water and all that works is something I use regardless of my system choices now.
 

LoganRan

Explorer
I don't think I would use any prior edition. Currently I'm running the massive megadungeon Rappan Athuk using 5e. But if I were to use a different system I would go with Sword and Wizardry or Dungeon Crawl Classics.
I never actually fully answered the OP but for my money, Original D&D is the most appropriate system for old school megadungeons (even though I never played ODD) and as Swords & Wizardry is just the modern, cleaned up version of ODD, it would probably be my personal selection.
 

Reynard

Legend
I never actually fully answered the OP but for my money, Original D&D is the most appropriate system for old school megadungeons (even though I never played ODD) and as Swords & Wizardry is just the modern, cleaned up version of ODD, it would probably be my personal selection.
I am this close to deciding on OD&D (by way of S&W or the above mentioned Delving Deeper, which I need to look into) simply because I have never played or run OD&D and have always felt I should rectify that.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
I ran Barrowmaze (a huge negadungeon) for both 5e and Swords & Wizardry and both did fine.

If I was going to do it again I'd use DCC, but in fainess I use DCC for most stuff these days
 

Mezuka

Adventurer
To run a megadungeon like I did in the early 80s, at age 15, with traps, random encounters, etc, I would use 4e. It's perfect for that kind of play. We used a battle grid and coins because we were wargamers before we discovered Basic D&D.

I would also use the tiles and miniatures of the 4e D&D board games.
 

Reynard

Legend
Does anyone know what important differences there might be between Swords & Wizardry and Delving Deeper? Now that I own both I am going to pick one but am not necessarily inclined to do a line by line comparison.
 

Egon Spengler

"We eat gods for breakfast!"
Delving Deeper is a mostly faithful clone of white box OD&D. S&W takes liberties, the most important few being the reduction of five saving throw categories to a single save number (that increments by +1 per level for, IIRC, all classes) and a total re-write of the treasure tables and allocation methods. One might say that Delving Deeper is the "OSE" of white box, and S&W is its "Labyrinth Lord."

(Editing to add: If I were to run a white box based game, I'd actually look to either "White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game" or Chris Gonnerman's "Iron Falcon." Both are even clearer presentations of the original material, with the main difference being that Iron Falcon is a very faithful rendition of original D&D + Greyhawk, while WB:FMAG is a S&W-derivative clone that sticks to the first three booklets but does add a thief class that uses a beautifully simple single d6-based "thievery" progression for all thieving skills.)
 

Reynard

Legend
Delving Deeper is a mostly faithful clone of white box OD&D. S&W takes liberties, the most important few being the reduction of five saving throw categories to a single save number (that increments by +1 per level for, IIRC, all classes) and a total re-write of the treasure tables and allocation methods. One might say that Delving Deeper is the "OSE" of white box, and S&W is its "Labyrinth Lord."

(Editing to add: If I were to run a white box based game, I'd actually look to either "White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game" or Chris Gonnerman's "Iron Falcon." Both are even clearer presentations of the original material, with the main difference being that Iron Falcon is a very faithful rendition of original D&D + Greyhawk, while WB:FMAG is a S&W-derivative clone that sticks to the first three booklets but does add a thief class that uses a beautifully simple single d6-based "thievery" progression for all thieving skills.)
Thanks. I'll check both out!
 


Orius

Hero
I would recommend a version of the classic D&D game of your choice, B/X or RC. BECMI is also a possibility, but RC has the advantage of being one volume instead of spread out and you can ignore the optional stuff like general skills and weapon mastery. Companion is more important for domain play and the War Machine which you probably won't need. Masters rules mostly sets up the divine ascension to Immortals and you don't need the Immortals rules for megadungeoning. Go RC primarily if you don't want B/X's level 14 cap and you want access to the Companion and Masters level monsters and magic, but be aware that thieves get hurt with skill progression stretched out to 36 levels. You can also do any of the retroclones that copy the various classic D&D rules.

Another possibility is running 2e without getting into the various options. A core or near core game of 2e is simple enough to do a megadungeon and it's a more organized game than 1e. Just don't go heavy into optional stuff stuff like NWPs, kits, Player's Option and so.

The thing with the classic megadungeon is that it works best with some classic rules elements like XP for GP, resource management and so on. I'll say right off that 3e is a really bad choice for running a megadungeon. You'd have to do a good deal of work tweaking things first. 3e is structured with a lot of assumptions that aren't the same as the balances of previous editions so there's a lot of fiddly things to look at and adjust to make it work.
 

S'mon

Legend
2e de-emphasised sandbox play and made gold for xp non-core, so it's not ideal.

OD&D has the most support for megadungeon play (in The Underwold & Wilderness Adventures), followed probably by B/X - nearly all in the B though. AD&D 1e oddly assumed the reader already knew about megadungeons and the GM advice is much more about wilderness play. BECMI model is much more 'lots of dungeons in a wilderness' rather than a single megadungeon.

My current favourite clones are BFRPG and S&W; especially BFRPG with the S&W single save mechanic.
 

Orius

Hero
2e de-emphasised sandbox play and made gold for xp non-core, so it's not ideal.

Which is why I mentioned it as a secondary recommendation. XP for GP is optional in 2e, but a DM could go with it and ignore the individual XP awards which I think would be the best approach. 2e doesn't cover the traditional dungeon crawling experience as much as earlier rules, but the elements are there for the DM who recognizes them. But again, I mentioned a low option 2e after classic D&D which I still feel is the better out of the box option.
 


Stormonu

Legend
2E because it is both simple and complex enough for what I'd be doing.

As far as the megadungeon, that'd be my old mountain campaign, Tsre Vestu and its 100 levels, but with new maps.
 

Reynard

Legend
2E because it is both simple and complex enough for what I'd be doing.

As far as the megadungeon, that'd be my old mountain campaign, Tsre Vestu and its 100 levels, but with new maps.
2E is interesting because I don't associate it mentally or emotionally with those kinds of campaigns (based on what I was doing with it at the time) but ultimately it is mechanically similar to other Old School versions of the game that you can do a megadungeon just fine with it.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
I am currently running a megadungeon campaign using 13th age (Eyes of the Stone Thief) so I'd actually use that.

But since this is an "Older Editions" forum if I have to pick an edition of D&D I'd use 4e.

And the reason for that is because of what my theoretical megadungeon would be. Because if I had the time to design it it would be a megadungeon set within the corpse of a dead god floating in the Astral Plane. Different factions in the dungeon would be attempting to harness the divine power still stuck within the corpse for their own purposes, and on the surface of the dead god would be a number of settlements as well as its own ecosystem (giving a form of "wilderness exploration" as well as the potential for city adventures). I feel like 4e (and 13th Age) gives the right feel for that kind of exploration. (Eyes of the Stone Thief does have some of these elements, though I think it has a different feel than what I'd be going for given the nature of the dungeon).

As for the random monster question in 4e - random encounters could be resolved as either combat or skill challenges depending on the encounter. Back in the day we often tried to resolve random encounters without combat since wandering monsters rarely had treasure anyway. But these days I like to make my random encounters springboard for narrative events, so I'd probably write up my random encounter table to allow for all sorts of encounters and if it turns into a combat encounter, well, it'll be a cinematic one because that's probably what my players would be wanting.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
I always wonder why people sell hard on OSE when Labyrinth Lord was first and does everything OSE does.
I like LL and I gave a hand with the translation in Italian, but I think that an advantage that OSE has is that it is more organized and more clearly written. It is also a much closer clone of B/X, but whether this is an advantage or not, depends on personal opinion.
 

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