Friday, September 7, 2012

Who Built This Thing?

 I've been thinking about the megadungeon recently. How I've never played one. How I want to design my own. About ones like Barrowmaze, Dwimmermount, Castle Greyhawk, Rappan Athuk, Undermountain. Mostly I've been wondering where the concept came from.

While the megadungeon will forever be associated with "old-school gaming", it seems no one who was part of the original wave of RPGs actually used this term to describe the sprawling underground complexes they spent their adventuring lives exploring. Massive, labyrinthine complexes full of traps, monsters, and treasure was what these game were about. Perhaps the term developed after the size of dungeons shrank and more modules emphasizing narrative came about? If anyone could demystify its origins, I will be very grateful.

Should that mystery be solved, there lies an even greater one: what are the literary precedents of the megadungeon? I am hardly well read in Appendix N fiction, but I don't think there are very many examples in Gygax's famed list of inspirational reading. The only one I can think of, which may simply be due to my inexperience with pre-genre fantasy literature, are the Mines of Moria. While Moria is indisputably a megadungeon, the Fellowship does not navigate it in the way that most players in RPGs would, which makes the origins of this type of locale all the more mysterious.

If any of you could provide answers or links to further my education on this subject, you can scratch your good deed for the day off your to-do list.


  1. The idea of a megadungeon is a modern one. A sort of idealized version of the game as played in the 70s. All that stuff back then happened so fast. From Dave gets the idea in 72 of having his players explore dungeons to collect treasure to buy troops for the minature wargames he held. This idea gets developed, shared with Gary, who publishes it in 74. By 1978, they had already moved beyond the large "campaign dungeon" into more episodic adventure modules of the G and D series. That's a total of 6 years of frantic development.

    As a player in the early 80s, each DM was expected to make pages and pages of dungeons (in class mostly). There was no concept of the dungeon being complete or self contained. Every level always had stairs going ever deeper down.

  2. I don't think you should discount the possibility that it was just easier to add on to the dungeon your players are already exploring, than developing another one. Unless the players are getting antsy, why bother?

    1. Players who grew up on contemporary games do get antsy, in my experience. My current group is very resistant to the idea of doing an exploration-style, dungeon crawler campaign because they think it's going to be the P&P equivalent of Diablo, which is unfortunate because I've come to prefer dungeon crawls to the sprawling, world-spanning campaigns I usually end up running.