When reading about all the dangers our amazing designers have prepared for the Emerald Spire Superdungeon, it might sound like GMs are going to have to spend most of their time preparing these sixteen levels of deathtraps and ancient mystery. Luckily, the largest Pathfinder Module ever is also associated with the largest Flip Map Pack ever!
Anyone who wants to jump right into running this massive dungeon can pick up Pathfinder Flip-Mat: The Emerald Spire Superdungeon Multi-Pack. This set of eight double-sided 24" x 30" maps details every nook and cranny of the Emerald Spire, from the Tower Ruins on the surface down to The Emerald Root itself!
And what kinds of things will PCs be encountering in these 16 levels? For another sneak peek, this week we continue to talk to designers of the Emerald Spire Superdungeon. We talked to Chris Pramas (founder of Green Ronin Publishing and designer of level 7) and F. Wesley Schneider (Editor-in-Chief here at Paizo and designer of level 10) about how they approached their levels of the superdungeon, what they think a "superdungeon" is, and a few teasers on what surprises they arranged for the unsuspecting delvers of the Emerald Spire.
How do you define a "Superdungeon"? What is your favorite dungeon or superdungeon experience in your personal gaming history?
I designed my first superdungeon when I was 12. My impetus was a game convention that was being held at Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was the first con I ever went to and I brought my dungeon with me and ran it there. Naturally, the characters never got off the first level because it was a one day convention! Hammond Castle was a great location though. I liked it so much I got married there 20 years later.
"Superdungeon," "megadungeon," "ultraextremodungeon," they're all buzzwords for "giant frickin' dungeon." If a dungeon is the focuse of one adventure, a superdungeon is a location (or tightly interlinked series of locations) with multiple adventures worth of action. At some point this transcends physical size and is more about plot. Scarwall in Pathfinder Adventure Path #11: Skeletons of Scarwall, for example, is a massive dungeon, but the whole castle shares the same theme and plot. It's all one adventure. With the Emerald Spire, though, the levels are linked by proximity, but every floor still has its own distinctive story (or piece of a larger story). For me, number of stories, number of adventures, not necessarily number of square feet, distinguish dungeons from superdungeons.
As for my personal favorites, well, I'm playing through Gary Gygax's Necropolis with James Jacobs, Erik Mona, Jason Bulmahn, Rob McCreary, and Tim Nightengale right now, so that's up there. I also had a very small part in AEG's World's Largest Dungeon about a decade ago. But the megadungeon I have the most experience with is Bruce R. Cordell's Return to the Tomb of Horrors. I was too young to jump in the Tomb of Horrors meatgrinder the first time around, so when this boxed set came out in 1998, all I knew were snippets of the legend. It absolutely didn't disappoint, either, with its weighty adventure book, handouts, illustration booklet, and monster supplement. Many of the encounters were beyond twisted, like the gigantic bone-golem gate to Skull City, the twisted necromantic experiments in the Black Academy, riding through the planes on the back of a phantom flyer, updates of traps and puzzles from the classic adventure, and finally the last battle with Acererak in front of his massive, soul-infused phylactery. It's a roller coaster of sick, awesome stuff—and the beginning of my love affair with winter wights. The art throughout also went beyond the call of duty. It didn't just luridly reveal the dooms and denizens of Acererak's stronghold, but presented a group of adventurers that persisted throughout the megadungeon—at least, until each nameless character got killed off in turn. I scalped sections of the dungeon for several personal games, but only attempted to run it as a whole twice... both times to my players' terrible, untimely ends.
Which I suppose is also a big factor of true megadungeons: lethality.
What is your level of the Emerald Spire Superdungeon called? What theme, if any, does the level have?
My level is called Shrine of the Awakener. It is controlled by a demonic cult and I don't want to say much more than that, as the nature of the cult is one of the secrets players will learn when they play through.
I originally named my section something melodramatic, like "Hell of Obsessions" or some such. In the final accounting, it's called the Magma Vault. Totally a good change. Sounds less like the afterlife for cheap perfume.
As for theme, I knew mine from the beginning: I wanted to do the fire level. You know, the Fire Level. Every game has a fire level! They're some of the most loathed levels in video games because they have—duh—fire... or lava, or magma, or whatever that roiling red stuff is that causes you to die as soon as you fall in. I'm talking Norfair in Metroid, Heat Man's level from Mega Man II, Death Mountain in Ocarina of Time, and the Underworld or Volcano Planet in a dozen other games. They're deadly places that typically involve platforms and some daring leaps with deadly consequences. If you still don't get it, check out "Lethal Lava Land" on TV Tropes.
So I did that...
Then threw in Hellknights.
What where the inspirations you drew on for your Emerald Spire level, and what are you hoping players get out of it?
The cult actually comes from a home campaign I've been running the last couple of years. I wanted my teenage stepdaughter to get a feel for what D&D was like back in the day, so I started running an AD&D campaign set in Greyhawk for our Monday night game group. The cult was one of the PCs' major enemies and I liked the lore I had built up while creating adventures for the campaign. It was easy enough to re-work the material to fit in Golarion. I hope the players like seeing something that came straight from my game table to theirs!
As for what I hope players get out of it? A mysterious lockbox* and fiftieth degree burns.
(* Ask Sutter.)
We really appreciate Chris and Wes taking the time to give us a hint of the horrors they created for The Emerald Spire! But there are still many more levels to tease, and even more tie-in products to help GMs make this superdungeon an experience their players will never forget! Next week we'll look at a few more Emerald Spire tie-ins GMs are sure to find useful, and talk about how themes of order and chaos, and the Gamemastery Guide, influenced the superdungeon.
Owen K.C. Stephens
Developer, Pathfinder Modules