Your Thoughts On A Mega-Dungeon? (Map Images Added)

A staple of any good D&D campaign … the mega-dungeon may mean different things to different people. For myself it comprises many levels, an array of corridors and multiple paths and rooms.

But what do you think of as one, and what have been your favourite recollections or worse nightmares?

What do you like or dislike about such?

Let the discussion begin … (hopefully) … :wink:

Personally I prefer quality over quantity. An endless hack-n-slay dungeon can get boring, so having features that test various party skills and abilities adds interest. Providing a rational reason for why things exist in the dungeon adds to the immersion factor. Allowing multiple ways to solve a challenge makes it seem less linear. I like lots of decoration, a variety of distinctive features, and interesting environments.

What I don’t like about dungeons are areas that create walkpathing problems: narrow passages or irregular walkways that require hand-guiding individual party members. I have mixed feelings about dungeons that lock you in and require you to work your way through many obstacles for a rest; they often require tedious replay, but do provide a challenge.


Some great points rjshae!

I agree, and I would hope any such dungeon would possibly even add extra skill and ability dimensions to give the experience an added depth.

Oh definitely! And exposing more about the “dungeons” ecology I think should be a given too.

Yes! For me, this also includes different ways to access and move between various levels.

Yes, I agree about the path-finding issues - and for myself, my dungeons for module two (mega or otherwise) are trying to provide larger spaces for the player to work with. As for “lock-ins”, I do NOT mind them, as long as there is a logical explanation and I CAN STILL REST. i.e. I don’t want to fail due to being unable to find rest … that said, even not being able to rest may have a logical reason behind it, but only so long as the player may be provided some sort of “mega-dungeon” alternative. :wink:

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Possibly the most ambitious mega-dungeon I ever encountered was the last part of John McA’s Sands of Fate trilogy for NWN1. The last stage was a pyramid the size of a city with dozens of levels, different theme areas, internal merchants, and multiple plot lines. It must have been an enormous undertaking.

Unfortunately for me the files somehow became corrupted shortly after my character reached L39 and I could not recover a playable save. After several weeks of exploring it was just too much play again.

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My goodness! Dozens of levels! That is some feat to say the least. I mean even a dozen levels would have been an undertaking, but that would take some beating even if the time was available.

Personally I try to keep my dungeons to three levels or less. I suppose theoretically you could refer to the Underdark as a “megadungeon” of sorts. So what separates a megadungeon from a geographic region? Is it just being self-contained with limited access to the outside world? The Underdark pretty much satisfies that.


Hi Kamal,

I would say three levels constitutes a “regular” dungeon. By “mega” I mean an “effectively” standalone dungeon that has multiple levels and a PC can “survive” without (necessarily) having to return to civilization … so I suppose a set of areas in the way you describe fits the bill … I think as long as it has the “stands alone” element and is “big” would probably describe it … That and the fact that once completed, it would not be an area to return to, in the same way you would not likely return to any regular dungeon.

Cheers, Lance.

Dungeon merchants can be fun to encounter. What are they doing there and why do they hope to sell gear without getting robbed blind by the local denizens? They often turn out to be unusual in some way.

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As it happens, this is something I am currently looking into as I design a mega-dungeon for module two! :wink: This will be nothing like I have done in NWN2 so far … and I hope I can get it to work/play as I hope. :slight_smile:

One of the solutions the author used was simply to riff on the tomb aspect of the pyramid, i.e. he created an undead merchant that didn’t seem to care that customers only came along once every decade or so. Not a guy you want to haggle with. :wink:

Hi GCoyote,

I am looking at something “even more unusual” … cannot say anything more without spoiling. :slight_smile:

EDIT: I also think my “mega-dungeon” will not be as big as some may think, but it (I hope) will be big-ish and self-contained to the point that the player spends some time there due to circumstances. The challenge will be in what has happened to put them here …

Cheers, Lance.

Check this out … Mine will NOT be this big, as my brain would fry!

I just did some checking on this map, and found one labelled level 7, which still had as much detail! Just imagine trying to convert all levels of that in NWN2. Mind-blowing!

The Ruins of UnderMountain (Level 1) according to this …

Another version …

Here is level 7 …

And this is a good site for a similar approach I will take (with some of the design aspects)…

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I kinda want to put my thoughts regarding this in a perspective of P&P as well. Mega dungeons tend to have a cult reputation there. For example Rapan Athuk has 56 layers and is a bout of about 500 pages. Needless to say, that if one starts this it will probably be a lifetime of sessions.

But when I build dungeons for my players, I prefer to keep them short and filled with interesting stuff. Most of the mega dungeons I’ve seen often have rooms which offer nothing. “Some ruined shelves indicate this was a library at some point. Nothing of interest here though”. Like… why is this room there?

So my dungeons, I prefer them at about 5 - 10 rooms, and not more than 2 layers. In these rooms I like to offer some traps, puzzles, fights and a main area where the boss will be. These are doable in one session (sometimes two) and keep the players occupied with all 3 aspects of the game. Exploration, Battle and Roleplaying.

Again, these are my thoughts when it comes to P&P.


Yes, I tried writing up an enormous PnP dungeon a long time ago, but it’s a real challenge to make every room interesting. In the end it was much smaller than I’d planned, but more satisfying.

Perhaps an alternative might be a world map approach? You could present a huge dungeon map, but just provide icons for the main areas of interest for a party of that level? The party could find maps and hints pointing to the other locations. You could always just keep adding more locales later.


Yes, I appreciate that PnP differs in this aspect to NWN. I also actually wondered if such a “dungeon” of “mega” size should actually be easier to pull off with NWN as opposed to PnP. I mean in NWN does an “empty” room matter as much as a PnP one?


In PnP that sort if thing does appear more “pointless”, but in NWN, does passing through such a room have the same detrimental effect? Would it be “noticed” in the same way? I am thinking of games like “Bioshock” etal, which are comparable to large “dungeons”. One does not notice “emptiness” when exploring such.

I think for PnP that is probably about right. (With maybe a couple more levels if I can give good reasons.) The difference with PnP compared to CRPG, however, is that a few rooms can normally be cleared in a few minutes compared to hours. Therefore, I think there can be an argument for increasing the size of a dungeon in NWN simply to make it feel more like a proper dungeon crawl.

The big problem is, however, how to keep the feeling of big (also taking time) and keep it interesting at the same time. That is what I am working on now.

I think in PnP it would be far more difficult than we may potentially have in in NWN for the reasons I give above. i.e. Easier to “ignore” in NWN compared to PnP.

I think this could be a good working aid for such. My main problem at the moment is, as you first pointed out, how to create a feeling of “big” (as in taking time as much as actual size) without it feeling boring. My guide for such is games like Bioshock and its predecessors System Shock 2, which I believe capture dungeon crawl feeling in a CRPG. And if you have ever played Ultima Underworld, that also captured the feel for me … an excellent game at the time … I will look that up again.

EDIT: Found Ultima Underworld level 1 map (of about 7). I recall this being an excellent dungeon crawl. I would like to be able to recreate the kind of feeling I had playing this game! :slight_smile:

One empty room no, 20 yes. Just because a thing can be done doesn’t make it a good idea. See the pet peeves thread.

The other problem is that both Ultima Underworld 1&2 as well as System Shock (EE + Original) are available to buy from gog, which means those games are not abandonware. Add to that the news that a new re-imagined version of System Shock is coming shortly as well just to add to the problem.


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Hi TR,

Are these links “illegal” then? I will play it safe and remove the links then.

I already have all these games, so I simply used the links to save me having to dig out the old boxes with the disks, but I would prefer to remove them if I am encouraging any illegal activity. The site looked legit to me.

EDIT: I have had the new System Shock wishlisted in Steam for some time now. :wink:

I have commented on that thread as you know … however, I never found any of these games (that I mention here) as a problem that met the “peeves” mentioned. (Apart from difficult controls, that’s the worst thing, but actual gaming is good fun on these old games, if I recall it correctly. It’s been a long time now!)

“Emptiness” like everything else, needs to match up with the story you are trying to convey to the players.

  1. A ruined surface town abandoned centuries ago should be largely looted and devoid of much besides wildlife.

  2. A ruined crypt that no one has entered in a thousand years might have a lot of interesting content.

Empty might also mean no treasure/combat/xp but can still be used to add detail and atmosphere. I’ve seen some good use of sfx and vfx to convey a sense of desolation or sadness in an otherwise ‘empty’ space.

As to Lance’s point about PnP vs CRPG, the game engine can handle far more dice rolls per room than a human gaming group. Searching an empty room just goes faster in NWN so you can slap down a few more tiles of ‘rooms’ without boring the players.


Hi GCoyote,

Yes, that was what I thought as well. The NWN game engine and general pace of the game almost demands more rooms to give a feeling of dungeon crawling. However, I am trying very hard to pull that off without feeling like a tedious walk through tunnels.

As I said, I have already started my design, and am reasonably happy with the look of it so far … My main hope is to include some new aspects to the specific areas to give them a fresh appeal too … For example, if you played my Ancient Crypt in The Scroll (which is quite a large dungeon), that also included a whole new concept to do with “runes”. My approach to this “mega-dungeon” is to deliver a similar type of new angle that may encourage the player to investigate without feeling “bored”. i.e There will be more to learn and play within the larger environment as well as larger exploration. E.g. Swimming skill may be possible to learn while here to help navigate some subterranean channels.

Thanks, Lance.