Friday, November 13, 2009
Megadungeon - Evolution through Play
Each time I get a chance to run my Megadungeon, The Forsaken Halls, I'm struck by how different it has become from its original form. What's most interesting is how this didn't come through sudden changes or revision, but through gradual changes made and tweaked from session to session.
For an example, I present an area of the Halls now known as the "Spider Maze". Originally, it was a sort of foyer, a fairly large open area between the bridged chasm near the dungeon's entrance, and the Halls of Madness (the "centerpiece" area of level 1). Before I moved to Swords & Wizardry, the Forsaken Halls were simply a way to test out the new 4th edition of D&D, which hadn't even been released yet; all we had were some scans of Quickplay rules from a preview at a convention, and a compilation of monsters cobbled together from peeks at early drafts of the monster manual, as well as a few pregen characters.
With these materials in hand, I dug out an old unused dungeon map, made up a quick background story, and we got down to business test driving the new edition to see if it had legs or not. That first session, it just so happened, as I was basically using monsters in order as I ticked them off on the preview sheet, that the occupants of the Foyer were something called "Deathjump Spiders". The Spiders made mincemeat of the party, forcing them to flee the Forsaken Halls altogether, and leaving one of their number behind, dead!
For the next foray into the dungeon, I knew I'd better give the players some cover, and had been reading up a little on 4E's emphasis on providing challenging terrains, so when the party next entered the chamber, it was wholly filled with sticky webs! Unphased, the party put the webs to the torch, leaving them, yet again, to the tender mercies of the deadly, leaping spiders. With some lucky rolls, they managed to win the day this time, and discovered the corpse of their fallen comrade hanging in a cocoon from the far corner of the chamber, along with several other cocoons.
The third time I ran the dungeon, it was with Labyrinth Lord, as by this time I begun exploring the retroclones a bit more. Not wanting the players to waltz through the Spider's foyer quite so easily, and wanting to add more description and exploration to what had originally been little more than a combat set piece, I changed things up again. I described the chamber to the players as a vast dark area apparently glittering with stars hovering in midair. While the area was still choked with webs, they were now nearly transluscent, and glittering with water that seeped down from somewhere high above (everyone's seen a dewey spiderweb at daybreak). No longer would the spider webs be burned away wholesale in a few short moments, the party must now hack its way through the area like an expedition from an old Tarzan Movie.
Now on its ? run, the last several with Swords & Wizardry, the area has become a winding maze through the wet, hanging webs. The players must navigate the confusing, sticky corridors in search of the way to the greater halls beyond, while some tunnels lead to secret doors, and others to the spider's abbatoir, where the dessicated corpse of that first elven ranger to die back in May of '08 still hangs alongside newer victims. All the while, spiders lurk above, below, and alongside these tunnels, ready to pick off the unwary, "Aliens 2" style.
Most of the dungeon explored thus far has been like this, shaped through the actions of the players, and my response and reactions to those actions. I can't wait to see how the countless untouched areas will change and evolve when they at last are explored as well.