Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Megadungeons: The Castle Whale

I continue to think about The Castle Whale. I am pretty far off from starting any real project here, as I do not have any outlet to run it at this time. I am already running a megadungeon game set in Stonehell, so I don't think my group would appreciate me jumping at a new shiny. But I am thinking about how I would go about it if I ever get the chance.

I think, if I was going to build a megadungeon from scratch, I would do it as a complete stand alone game with a rule set specifically tailored, not just for megadungeons, but for the specific dungeon. I would probably make a rule set descended from either Swords & Wizardry, Searchers of the Unknown, or E6. I would probably go the route of having characters be a bit more survivable than baseline D&D, with more hp and faster recovery options.

The combat system would be theater of the mind and abstract to facilitate quick encounters. I would probably use a lot of ideas I discussed in a previous post about streamlined games. There is no use having a giant dungeon with hundreds of rooms if you are going to spend an hour in each room.

I would have a small, but carefully tailored monster section. I want to try to have as few stock monsters as possible. There is plenty of opportunities to have monsters derived from bacteria and other parasites in a game set in a giant whale, no need to throw too many goblins in. I think I would spend time fleshing out the interactions between the monsters because of the way I plan to populate the dungeon.

The rules would have to include an expedition downtime system. I am not really sure what that will look like yet. I think I will use a system for generating magic items using story cubes. I have seen a few of these discussed recently. I am fond of coming up with items that have weird powers and then seeing how the players use them. I don't plan on using many stock magic items, swords should be intelligent or weird if they are magic.There will need to be an encumbrance system that can be used quickly, but has real consequences. This has been one of the trickier parts of old school gaming.

The presentation of the dungeon itself is a special challenge. As much as I love Stonehell, I do not think that I could draw out a whole dungeon and key it like that. I think I will take inspiration from roguelikes here as well. The dungeon will be divided into regions, and each region will have groups that operate in it. I may manage the groups by total XP value, and have a system where they replenish unless they are reduced below a total amount of XP. A few years ago the Angry DM discussed his Project Slaughterhouse where he divided an adventure into zones and populated them with factions. It is a great piece and if you haven't read it, you should. A system like this could be used in a megadungeon to avoid massive amounts of room keying, just describe the zones in a general sense and use the factions to populate them on the fly.

I would not map most of the dungeon. Each region will have its own set of geomorphs, the geomorphs will be numbered and each section laid out in a grid. Each region will also have certain special areas that are guaranteed to appear in that region. These areas will be completely detailed, in some cases this will be a room, in others it could be a whole floor. This will allow me to randomly generate the dungeon either on the fly or a short time before play, but keep a strong sens of theme and "planned feel". This will also allow me to record the dungeon, Traveller-style, in a single dimension array after I generate each section for return visits.

For example:

A level that is 3 geomorphs by 3 geomorphs and has a geomorph pool of 16 with one special area (X). Could be expressed:

(4, A, 7, 9, X, 5, 4, F, 1)

I don't have to draw out the levels as I generate them, or even in play. This also has the benefit of allowing be to record an instance of a very large dungeon on a very small amount of paper. Using geomorphs will also allow me to easily swap out sections for an ever changing, mystical underworld.

It will be important to keep some big picture principles in mind while designing the rules and dungeon.

At the high level, this is a game about managing an expedition. You need to hire the right people and keep them supplied, happy, and alive. You also have to keep the expedition profitable. At the mid level, this is a game about exploring. You have to map the dungeon and bring its treasure back to camp. You also have to claim and manage the areas you discover, as there will be other parties. You will have to set up new camps as you go deeper. At the lowest level, this is a game about item management. You need to have enough food to eat and enough light to see. You need to have carrying capacity to get the treasure back out.

You will need to manage all of these things effectively to avoid dying alone in the dark.