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Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Tibbit about Mega-Dungeons (Original Edition RPG Appreciation Day / OERAD)

Original Edition RPG Appreciation Day (OD&D) is today May 5th, 2018. Join the festivities and read posts all across the blogosphere.
Dungeons and Mega-Dungeons in OD&D. 

In the original Dungeons & Dragons published in 1974 the focus of the game was (and is) exploration. Whether you are in the Wilderness or in a Dungeon the focus is exploration.

If you were running a campaign that was more dungeon focused, it often evolved into a Mega-Dungeon. A basic dungeon is described as 


A good dungeon will have no less than a dozen levels down, with offshoot levels in addition, and new levels under construction so that players will never grow tired of it. There is no real limit to the number of levels, nor is there any restriction on their size (other than the size of graph paper available). "Greyhawk Castle", for example, has over a dozen levels in succession downwards, more than that number branching from these, and not less than two new levels under construction at any given time.

A Mega-Dungeon is when this basic dungeon reaches maturity and the size and number of levels continues to grow as it is developed. A true Mega-Dungeon is impossible to fully explore. If the players ever finish a dungeon, then it was not a Mega-Dungeon.

A few definitions are in order

Mega-Dungeon is a massive dungeon that goes way beyond a basic dozen levels with twenty or more being typical. They also typical have over 200 room or spaces per level - not counting sublevels.

Campaign Dungeon is a meaningless term, since if play is restricted to just a dungeon you do not have a campaign, you have a limited sample game.

Campaign is a full fleged OD&D game where all parts of a campaign are present being Dungeons, Towns/Cities, Wilderness, Sea-Going and mulitple planes.

Choke Point is when options become very limited and things become linear aka railroads. This is not a feature of old school campaigns. The opposite of Choke Point is normal design.

Dungeon levels have full footprints as you go deeper into the dungeon.

Dungeon sub-levels have partial footprints and are usually have fewer access points than is normal for a level. To avoid the spector of the railroad, it is suggested that at least three access point be provided, although some can be through secret doors or other types of access. It is also suggested that they have at least three ways out. It is acceptable for the way in to be different from the way out or for them to be difficult to find.

Unique areas can be present that are isolated (but not railroaded) from other areas.

Rooms and chambers differ in that chambers are large rooms that have or had a specific purpose rather than a general purpose, such as, an audience chamber.

Chutes are ways to rapidly get from upper levels to lower levels although sometimes they operate the opposite way. They are often found behind secret doors or combined with a pit trap or trapdoors. Chutes are completely enclosed throughout their length.

Slides are also between levels but differ in that they are not completely enclosed so that one could roll or jump off of one along the way.

Portal is a door between different worlds or planes with usually minor clues to tell players the type of choice they are about to make.

Underworld aka Underdark is the entire complexity of underground campaign areas of which dungeons and mega-dungeon are just one small part.


Lairs are really tiny dungeons of only a few rooms or areas.

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