Lately I find myself more responding to other people’s posts than spontaneously writing my own, but over at Symptoms of Madness Kaeosdad tossed out the idea of a “reverse megadungeon” that would essentially be a large, above-ground city, rather than an underground labyrinth.
That got the old gears rolling, imagining a handful of PC’s exploring the bombed-out ruins of some post-apocalyptic city, picking through rubble and getting ambushed by ragged-looking mutants or whatever the fantasy equivalent might be.
But I also realized some problems with the idea too. And I’ve broken them down into a list.
First, adventure flow control. One of the reasons why dungeons have been the iconic adventure paradigm for RPG’s (fantasy or otherwise) is because as a judge you have a great deal of control, not control over what the PC’s do, but control over the order in which things occur. It’s a flowchart, essentially, and it allows a degree of pacing to the action. There’s almost a boolean process at work in dungeon crawling: you are going down a hallway when you see a door:
- do you listen at the door (Y/N)
- do you check the lock for traps (Y/N)
- do you open the door (Y/N)
- if N, move onto next door
- if Y, you see two squat humanoids sucking marrow out of some fingerbones. Roll for initiative.
To say it another way, you can, to a limited extent predict what comes next based on the choices the player’s make. You can estimate what areas of a map they’ll explore in a given session, just by looking at a radius of distance from where they are now. This isn’t 100% reliable–players do all sorts of crazy stuff–but it is generally reliable enough to allow a judge a certain amount of comfort in what they’ll be asked to do.
In a city, even one torn apart, a player could theoretically opt to just ride their horse to the center of town and skip all the buildings. Now as judge I’d be throwing random encounter rolls like crazy at that point, but you get the picture.
Second, I think you lose some of the innate peril in a city that you have underground. Underground is dark and oppressive. There’s tons of stone right above your head. If the passageway collapses behind you, you may be trapped in there forever. It’s also alien–it is not where people should be. It is not our element. In a city, that’s not the case. Outside, a fly spell will allow you to hop out of danger without difficulty. You could explore in broad daylight. I think to make the megadungeon-city work, you’d need to have it be constantly overcast, even raining. And maybe with large flying things swooping from skyscraper to skyscraper just to make sure that the players realize that UP isn’t the best way to go.
Finally, and this is less thematic and more practical, mapping out a city, both on the gaming table with terrain and on the graph paper for players is more complicated. I have several modular dungeons, all hallways and rooms. It allows the players to easily see what is happening. And as I said, I already have made those.
Doing a megadungeon city would mean a whole new set, and I’m not sure exactly how it would work. You’d need outside and interior mapping, theoretically, or perhaps no mapping at all beyond a vague road map? I don’t know. That’s what I’m trying to discern out (feel free to comment on this).
Short version, probably a pass for a mega-project, but damn it if doesn’t really sound like how you’d want to do a megadungeon for Mutant Future….