GMing · Settings

Cities: The Living Megadungeon


If you’ve read an RPG blog in the last week, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz about various projects concerning megadungeons both commercial and non. If you’ve read this blog at all, you probably already know that I tend to identify myself as an old school gamer. When you grow up playing these games during their original release, it’s difficult to see yourself as anything but. In truth, it actually comes from an appreciation for a rules lite style of play.

Nevertheless, I have to confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of megadungeons (I’m getting kicked out of the club now, aren’t I)? I do enjoy ruin, crypt, catacomb, and dungeon delving as much as the next old schooler, but I’ve never embraced the dungeon campaign-oriented mindset.

Part of the reason for that is that my players get bored working their way through huge, sprawling dungeonous structures. Chatty DM echoed a similar feeling from his group:

My players (one in particular) grow weary of spending long sessions through the same dungeon, exploring the same themes and/or pursuing the same goals. Part of this stems from the 18 straight months we spent playing Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil earlier in this decade.

So what I’m thinking is that I’ll likely go with the 5-encounters dungeons (with added empty rooms to round it out to a 10-15 rooms dungeon). In fact, I expect PCs to leave the area and return to ‘Civilization” between each thematically-linked forays.

Fortunately, back in the 80’s I was introduced to The City State of the Invincible Overlord, and I quickly discovered my alternative to the megadungeon: the city. In a way, cities in RPGs are nothing less than a living, breathing, constantly shifting megadungeon. By their very design, they have dynamic environments, locations, populations, and adventure seeds.

This is what makes them ideal not only for launching an adventure but for being the adventure. While I do enjoy seeing all the dungeon designs springing up, and I’d be glad to help with any of these projects, I’d much prefer to work in the city. In fact, I’m working on a city for a Castles & Crusades game I’m prepping.

Am I advocating a collaborative city? No, not at the moment. As Chatty said, I’m designing this for my players, and while I’ll gladly share pieces of it as I flesh it out, I’d like it to be a reflection of the kind of game they enjoy.

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3 thoughts on “Cities: The Living Megadungeon

  1. Thanks for the link!

    I don’t know if you have it, but Monte Cook’s Ptolus was actually both a superbly detailed city and a Huge Megadungeon campaign setting.

    It’s detailed enough to be useful with limited prep, but vague enough to leave ample elbow room to world builder DMs

  2. Thanks Chatty. I don’t own a copy but I have read about it. I’ve actually got a collection of city supplements from Greyhawk and Waterdeep to Lankhmar, the Invincible Overlord, and even the World Emperor. But I’ve kind of stopped buying them as I really enjoy doing the heavy lifting myself. Not only does it help me fit the city into my own setting, but I get a kick out of fiddling with the environment.

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