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[OSR] Recurring problems with dungeons

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[OSR] Recurring problems with dungeons

Hi there!

I'm in the process of choosing a new megadungeon from my pile for my ongoing campaign (expecting a TPK and fresh characters ;-) ...

I see some recurring problems in many of them and would like to discuss how to fix them. In no particular order:

1) No way to continue after a TPK / introduce new characters

Many dungeons provide a nearby town to recruit new PCs or create a new party for another go, but some megadungeons do not, e.g. Maze of the Blue Medusa. As a killer DM, this just does not work for me -- I've thrown away entire modules after a TPK (with no plausible way to continue), but an entire megadungeon is too much. And if I put in an entrance, that still leaves the problem of the dungeon feeling unexplored most of the time (Barrowmaze, however, does a good job with looted tombs and living and recently deceased NPC parties.)

2) Denizens spilling the beans

Actually, I welcome it when my players befriend, bribe, intimidate or outright charm or mindread sentient dungeon denizens, but I find it difficult to provide plausible monster knowledge on the spot (e.g. How many of the surrounding rooms does the monster know? Could it draw a map? Etc.) I have at times created monsters rosters in response or handed out entire dungeon maps, but this is usually a ton of work (e.g. painstakingly editing out secret doors and areas on player maps).

3) Implausible dungeon ecology

Many dungeons lack any coherent dungeon ecology (Where does this monster sleep? What does it eat? Where does it roam? Etc.). Everyone at the table is willing to suspend disbelief, but a bunch of hungry monsters in isolated dead-end locations (as in Dyson's Delve) is hard to stomach. Undead and demons can wait for centuries for the PCs to come along (as in Barrowmaze), but predators or sentients are often placed without logic. If I recall correctly, City of the Spider Queen provides lots of branches toward unknown territory (i.e. the module contains no information) which is a nice explanation for wandering monsters, possible hunting grounds etc. A few dungeon geomorphs can take care of the situation if the PCs explore such territory.


What are your pet peeves or recurring frustrations with otherwise well-done (mega)dungeons and what do you do about it?

Johann (another Story-Games refugee)
P.S.: I like all of the products mentioned, often for different reasons. I hope I am not causing hard feelings with my remarks.

I'm not sure I understand the

I'm not sure I understand the issue with no nearby town. That has always been part of the "dungeon campaign" in my experience. But I haven't read any of these modules so I don't know what the setup is.

As to getting information from monsters, my thought is that it should generally be limited to nearby areas, though it could be a way to drop a hint to something farther away.

If I'm playing a "dungeon campaign" I don't care much about ecology. Chalk it up to the bizarre magic used to create the place.

I agree

Those are definitely challenging issues when it comes to dungeon crawling. I can relate to all of them!

As @ffilz says, above, the general solution is just not to take them very seriously. (I’ve seen stuff like finding an amnesiac adventurer stick inside a treasure chest deep in the dungeon in order to replace a fallen comrade in campaigns of this style.) However, that’s not the most satisfying, is it?

I don’t know of any great solutions, other than planning ahead towards such issues and being transparent about them.

Adam Dray’s megadungeon, for example, was located under a city, which made it really easy to replace fallen adventurers, and there was never a problem with worrying about travel time. In addition, every session had to end with the PCs returning above ground, which further solved some of these issues.

@ffilz "Chalk it up to the

@ffilz "Chalk it up to the bizarre magic used to create the place."

Yeah, sort of like that famous essay bit about The Dungeon as a Mythic Underworld by Philotomy. My players don't really buy into that so far, but that's the correct approach, I think.

@Paul T. "finding an amnesiac adventurer stuck inside a treasure chest deep in the dungeon" is fine because the need to get a player back into the action trumps almost all other concerns. Bizarreness of this kind is harder to swallow regaring monsters and dungeon features because how are the PCs supposed to react to that? You can't make proper plans if there is neither rhyme nor reason to the proceedings.

(In the Barrowmaze, I had sentient beings teleported randomly whenever they slept. This explained the presence of intelligent monstrous humanoids with limited/haphazard knowledge of the dungeon's layout (though plenty of other useful knowledge). Unfortunately, I can't use that trick for more than one dungeon.)

The Magical Underworld

Lots of dungeon-type games include some kind of metaphysical or magical rationale both for the existence of dungeons and their less sensible features. It’s not that hard to do; although perhaps less natural if you’re using a variety of published modules, each with its own strange assumptions.

Others simply accept that it’s a nightmarish environment which doesn’t follow logic. Almost a Cthulhuesque intrusion into the logical and sensible world that we think we live in.

My own dungeon generation method actually creates some sense of an ecology in the dungeon: lots of options here!

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