A better landing page for this series, including links to related materials on other blogs, can be found at KJD-IMC: Node-Based Megadungeon.
I’ve spoken before about scenario design that focuses on the relationships between various elements of the scenario before the physical layout. These techniques can be used to manage the relationships between various adventures, and within a single adventure or dungeon, but I didn’t really go into how it can be used to manage a megadungeon.
I have seen ‘megadungeon guidelines’ that suggest laying out the various levels and regions, then populating them. This has some merit, but there’s a step that can be done before this that really helps: mapping out the contents of the megadungeon, the inhabitants and their relationships, before scribbling even the start of the map.
I took a few minutes this morning and came up with the following list of potential regions for a megadungeon (updated to provide links to the specific regions as they get developed):
- The Abandoned Tower: Abandoned, broken-down wizard’s tower.
- Wolf Den: A large wolf pack bent on mayhem and domination of weaker creatures.
- Goblin Warren: Desperate goblin clan looking for a way to escape their erstwhile ‘allies’.
- Fungoid Cavern: Overgrown region of fungus, slimes, oozes, and other non-plant vegetation.
- Dwarven Safehold: Military base staffed by professional soldiers. Not a lot of amenities, but dwarves don’t need them.
- Clockwork Hell: Mechanical madhouse, with lots of inexplicable machinery (and servitor automatons to protect and repair it). I am suddenly reminded somewhat of Castle Heterodyne from Girl Genius, and of the ‘advanced civilization’ areas of recent Zelda games.
- Aristothanes’ Sanctum: Sanctum of an eccentric wizard who wants to know “how everything works”, and is prepared to disassemble anything needed to figure this out.
- Pit of the Misshapen: Civilization, such as it is, of broken creatures.
- Fane of Baalshamoth: Alien source of knowledge, though the price is often misunderstood.
- Aboleth Conclave Outpost: A sink of depravity and treachery, where those in power oppress their subordinates while appearing to work together until active betrayal becomes a viable path to power.
- Shalthazard the Pale: Spectral wyrm so consumed by lust for knowledge and manipulation he did not notice his own death.
Generally dangerous, with a couple places that could be relatively safe. Note that the region names are pretty generic, for the purpose of conversation. In practice I would name at least the Mad Wizard and the Dark God, and probably the dwarves of the Safehold, the Abandoned Tower, and probably the goblin tribe. The information paths (or adventure hooks, if you prefer) would similarly be more specific.
I then identified relationships between the various elements and laid them out (GraphViz is a wonderful free tool for this), resulting in the map below.
There eleven distinct areas within the megadungeon (I don’t count ‘Outside’, it’s mostly an anchor for the diagram to show easy entrance points… but I’ll come back to that) with numerous links between them and notes about each link.
This makes it pretty easy to see how the various elements interact, and a bit of cleverness in laying it out even comes close to how it might look on the actual map. I can build on this to develop each region, showing detail in a similar manner. I would develop each of those graphs separately; there just isn’t room to do it here without cluttering things hopelessly.
It seems I’m mistaken. When I finished outlining the megadungeon I ended up generating a graph of all nodes in the dungeon, breaking each region down into smaller areas. Take a look at the graph here to see how it turned out.