dungeon design and slogging through it


Advice


hi, I'm looking at making a large dungeon without the party being able to get back to town. I hear that after 4 to 5 encounters the party should be tapped out for spells and such. So,how do you design it so the party isn't sleeping down inside of it day after day after day in order to work their way through it. It's easy enough to leave healing potions to keep them alive, but the spell casters would suffer without their nightly beauty sleep. is there a standard way to deal with these issues? the GM guide is silent (or i over looked that part). what is the norm when designing encounters quantities?


What about littering your dungeon with secret passages? These lead to "Safe" rooms that the party can rest in. If it is a multiple level dungeon, you could have one per level and the group could retreat to this one place that the denizens don't know about.


Healing potions or a spring of healy-magic-water or some such can handle the HP.

For spells, you either need some sort of equivalent option ("This water can restore your arcane power!") or yes, you need to let them sit down and rest after a while. Easing up on encounter difficulty can also help.

Of course, be aware that in the former case you /will/ have players fill up every flask they have. And eventually teleport back for more.


I also wouldn't allow them to just sleep whenever they liked, I'd enforce a minimum of 8 hours between rests...


You should take a look into the 3.x product World's Largest Dungeon. If you do not use that actual product it is chock full of ideas that would help you. I have played through all of it. My personal opinion is that it is great!


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A few suggestions:

1. Not everyone/thing in the dungeon is a villain: I have a large homebrewed dungeon and in building I thought "why would humanoids have coins as treasure?" The obvious answer was to buy things but from who? The obvious answer again was that there was some kind of economy among the humanoids. Therefore they have to be willing to buy, sell and trade stuff. Why not to adventurers? From this line of thinking I created whole sections of the dungeon as well as traveling "merchants" that would serve the PCs' needs such as potion-peddlers, neutral "inns" of a kind and even a modest trade town for use by low-level adventurers.

2. Bend the rules of time and space: there was a great article in Dungeon magazine back in '06 about adding extra-dimensional spaces in dungeons. One of the spaces was a pocket dimension that appeared once in a while to help provide food and rest to adventurers. There are a lot of ways to do this. You could make it a divine respite provided by the gods, some First World portal from helpful faeries, a permanent Mansion spell from some old wizard or just simply a timeless pocket dimension. Whatever the case you might limit its use through everchanging passwords or some other challenge.

3. LOTS of consumables: this one's an easy solution. If you have a party spellcaster that refuses to capitalize on the value of cantrips at low level or wield a weapon when spells run out and you don't want to frustrate them further drop in consumables like scrolls, potions and wands. Even alchemical weapons replace low level spells and keep the action going just as well. Consider: at 1st level an average loot pile is worth roughly 260 GP. If you threw in just 4 1st level scrolls, say Mage Armor, Sleep, Expeditious Retreat and Magic Missile now the arcane caster is set for the next couple rooms and you've still got 160 GP left in the loot pile for the rest of the party.

4. Remind players to use their other skills/feats: a lot of players need reminders that their PC is more than their consumable powers. Using Survival you can rig up simple snares; you can use this skill and some available rope to defend a room while you sleep. PCs can work on certain magic items or mundane items while they adventure, albeit very slowly. Clever players memorize where that pit trap is and use Disable Device to reset it, then lead the next monster back to the thing to try and trap their foes.

Dungeon delving at low to mid level is daunting, no doubt. Most modern players at my table are expecting 10 rooms to explore, tops. Even after I tell them there are MILES of dungeon before them they shrug, grab some basic gear and start going nova in rooms 2 or three. They need reminders that this kind of adventure, the MEGADUNGEON adventure, is about resource management.

You can't clear a megadungeon. The players need to be aware and accepting of that fact. Once they do and they're still willing to play that style of game suddenly their minds switch. I have one player who is running a level 3 sorcerer. I've only seen him use a 1st level spell maybe 3 or four times in all our game sessions. This is because he almost exclusively uses Acid Splash plus a flask of acid as a Material Focus. It's not tons of damage but it's reliable and everlasting for every fight, every round.


What level are the characters?
I don't know the rules that well, so finding a scroll with Rope trick or tiny hut would SEEM like a good thing but it would have to last for an 8 hour period. I don't know if say a 4th level wizard could cast a spell from a scroll that would allow a ropetrick that would last a full 8 hours. My friends play the Wizards or read the books. I just notice when they pull out that spell.

On the other hand, when we ran Second Darkness, we were mostly above ground (being able to sleep with watches) and then later levels we were underground so we had the spells so we could hide away someplace.


Another way to design a megadungeon with sleeping is to make a non-standard dungeon. Imagine that instead of a massive underground structure you instead took an entire medieval city, ruined it, then let it be overgrown by a forest?

Your megadungeon then is made up of 2-4 story structures surrounded by dense vegetation. The "halls" are paths through the wilds that used to be streets, alleyways etc. The "rooms" are open squares, building rooms, or unique set pieces. For example what if the city had a colossus statue that has collapsed? One of the encounter areas might be the giant's head on the ground with tunnels and chambers carved inside.

The reason it's a "megadungeon" is because some of the larger, more intact buildings have 10 or more rooms making them the sublevels of the dungeon.

Other non-standard megadungeons could be:

a series of islands floating on a huge underground aquifer with random shafts of sunlight from the surface allowing some of these to have vegetation

tree-top chambers and halls connected by catwalks and rope bridges

an enormous necropolis with sections of the dead city separated by impenetrable walls


A very simple solution is putting a time limit on completion. Either someone back in town needs a certain reagent to heal someone who's very sick, and they have only a few days before they'll die. Or maybe when they enter the dungeon, a sort of hourglass effect triggers, pouring sand onto the entrance from the ceiling. Someone with Knowledge (Dungeoneering) could make a fair guess that if the sand doesn't slow down, it'll cover the entrance in about 2 days.


You can also make the dungeon 'one-way', that for whatever reason the way they came in is no longer a means for getting out.

This usually works best when the players are strongly motivated to find this new exit, especially if they are looking for it before they become aware that their old one has been closed off (and once they learn the one known method of escaping is gone they will become even more highly concerned with finding a new one).

This increases the tension greatly and should be used sparingly.


Cuup wrote:
A very simple solution is putting a time limit on completion. Either someone back in town needs a certain reagent to heal someone who's very sick, and they have only a few days before they'll die. Or maybe when they enter the dungeon, a sort of hourglass effect triggers, pouring sand onto the entrance from the ceiling. Someone with Knowledge (Dungeoneering) could make a fair guess that if the sand doesn't slow down, it'll cover the entrance in about 2 days.

How is that a solution? Sure it'll keep them from resting, but it won't actually let them recover and be able to handle more fights.

I mean, if you want the whole dungeon to be a one-day no rest affair, that'll help, but if you want it to be more of a mega dungeon, explore for multiple levels kind of thing, a 2 day limit isn't very helpful.


Mark Hoover wrote:

A few suggestions:

3. LOTS of consumables: this one's an easy solution. If you have a party spellcaster that refuses to capitalize on the value of cantrips at low level or wield a weapon when spells run out and you don't want to frustrate them further drop in consumables like scrolls, potions and wands. Even alchemical weapons replace low level spells and keep the action going just as well. Consider: at 1st level an average loot pile is worth roughly 260 GP. If you threw in just 4 1st level scrolls, say Mage Armor, Sleep, Expeditious Retreat and Magic Missile now the arcane caster is set for the next couple rooms and you've still got 160 GP left in the loot pile for the rest of the party.

4. Remind players to use their other skills/feats: a lot of players need reminders that their PC is more than their consumable powers. Using Survival you can rig up simple snares; you can use this skill and some available rope to defend a room while you sleep. PCs can work on certain magic items or mundane items while they adventure, albeit very slowly. Clever players memorize where that pit trap is and use Disable Device to reset it, then lead the next monster back to the thing to try and trap their foes.

Dungeon delving at low to mid level is daunting, no doubt. Most modern players at my table are expecting 10 rooms to explore, tops. Even after I tell them there are MILES of dungeon before them they shrug, grab some basic gear and start going nova in rooms 2 or three. They need reminders that this kind of adventure, the MEGADUNGEON adventure, is about resource management.

You can't clear a megadungeon. The players need to be aware and accepting of that fact. Once they do and they're still willing to play that style of game suddenly their minds switch. I have one player who is running a level 3 sorcerer. I've only seen him use a 1st level spell maybe 3 or four times in all our game sessions. This is because he almost exclusively uses Acid Splash plus a flask of acid as a Material Focus. It's not tons of damage but it's reliable and everlasting for every fight, every round.

The flip side of all the "resource management" stuff is that you have to scale the fights (and the rewards as you say) so that they can win them without using up consumable powers or gear. If you want them to be able face twice as many fights, you can't just slam 2 sets of normally challenging encounters together and say "Go".


As a great adventurer once said "Need Food Badly".

Grant casters single-use pearls of power that activate once they are in possession of a caster and you're set.


thejeff wrote:

The flip side of all the "resource management" stuff is that you have to scale the fights (and the rewards as you say) so that they can win them without using up consumable powers or gear. If you want them to be able face twice as many fights, you can't just slam 2 sets of normally challenging encounters together and say "Go".

Very true. I've found that in megadungeons if I don't want to have PCs resting every couple of encounters I need to have some encounters that are nearly auto-wins. If for example I was running the first delve of a new campaign starting off at 1st level, I'd have half-a-dozen encounters that are merely CR 1/2 or 1/3: a lone goblin warrior 1, a mite and it's single fire beetle, a bunch of weasels in their den.

There'd also be story rooms. That is, there'd be rooms that do nothing but advance the story. These have no traps or encounters but provide clues to other parts of the dungeon. One example recently was that I knew I was going to have a wasting disease in a dungeon that turned the living into zombies. I had the PCs come upon a hapless kobold begging for it's death lying on a chamber floor; as they drew closer they saw that half of it's body had already turned to rot. It warned them not to be bitten and pleaded for their mercy, which the PCs did in fact bestow. On his person they also found a potion of jump - a resource they would use later in the dungeon.

Finally never discount the classic treasure-with-a-trap-on-it rooms! Used sparingly these can also drain a few resources, keep the action going and provide tools for continued adventure. Just remember that binary traps are boring to some players so you might have to replace them with a puzzle, a different mechanic or maybe even a Haunt.

Here's a sample of a megadungeon you might use:

The Ruins of Pvallengrad:

The town was once a walled settlement on the verge of the Elderwood. When the powers of the First World caused the forest to surge forth with wild growth the city and it's inhabitants were overrun. Many fled but the unlucky few were trapped.

Some were slain, only to animate as the restless dead, forever haunting the ruins. Others succumbed to faerie curses and were themselves transformed into monstrous minions; puppets on the strings of wicked sidhee. Still others survived for a time in the wilds devolving into a mockery of their former selves. Having survived in the darkest recesses of the ruins and tainted by otherworldly energies they have become infused with Shadow and become Fetchlings.

Over a century has passed and the First World energies have faded. Still the ruins remain to taunt the civilized lands to the south. Adventurers and explorers are not the only ones who have sought this place for their own gain. Kobolds and goblins vie with the eldritch horrors and faerie revels to make a home here or in the undertunnels below. Rumors abound that the reason the First World first sieged Pvallengrad was for some great faerie treasure the city had captured and held in it's vaults. He who controls this treasure controls the ruins.

Snippet: The Herbalist's Hedgemaze

This section of the ruins is a maze of hedgerows, bogs and massive stands of oaks amid half-walls and tumbled stone. The "floor" of the maze is cobblestone. At its center is the intact tower and umbral garden of Ylvoss, a Kayal herbalist.

She is a talented healer and poison maker, sought by many for her wares. Ylvoss is also a rare find in the ruins; a fair dealer. Getting to her is always an issue. Ylvoss uses her powers to come and go from her tower through shadows. The maze that surrounds it it the lair of many vile creatures but none worse than the fey. Insidious sprites and pixies use their powers to subtly change the maze and manipulate the "halls" so that mapping the place is folly.

Encounters and hazards:

- a trio of sprites/CR 1
- a lone kobold adept 1/CR 1/4: may want to bargain w/the party for safe passage
- 2 medium human skeletons/CR 1/2
- a grig commanding a pair of weasels/CR 2
- water-filled pit: treat as a bog hazard
- Falling Stone trap/CR 2
- 2 goblin warrior 1: they bear a cold-iron lantern and are hunting for faeries
- a shambling medium humanoid zombie/CR 1/2

Chambers:

The fountain - a small plaza amid the maze with crystaline water bubbling in a fountain with fey statuary. The far side of the plaza has a modest but intact one-room cottage large enough to accommadate 4-6 medium humanoids. Currently the place is held by a horde of 5 goblin warrior 1 led by a gobln witch 1 who use this place to make potions.

The Lion Door - a solid wall, once a building, stands amid the hedge here. The wall is shot through with vines and extends 30' up but it's major feature is an imposing oak door with the bronze head of a lion on it. The device animates and asks a riddle of the party; those who answer correctly are admitted through the door and bypass much of the maze. The door can also be forced open (Strong door) but the head will attack like a dire lion's bite attack.

Now that's just off the top of my head. If I were going to run this I'd have the encounters randomized with a d8 or make even more of them. I'd also have about 10 other chambers within the maze. Finally I'd make a point to have some of the encounters with intelligent opponents start off as a role-playing encounter. This would give the players ample opportunity to parlay with goblins, kobolds, and fey in order to gather info, make allies (even if temporary) and perhaps even bargain for resources.

Getting to the center and the herbalist Ylvoss gives the PCs a "win" in the dungeon and perhaps a permanent resource. Being a "light world" kind of GM I'd have the Fetchling give them a special plant that, when eaten allows them to directly enter/exit her tower as she does so they don't have to ALWAYS come and go through the maze. Of course that resource could be finite or stolen/ruined, so they'd still need to maintain vigilance.

Of course in true megadungeon fashion I'd probably also toss in, say, a moss troll (CR 3) living in the canopy of the maze or perhaps a sprite (CR 4) that patrols the place and keeps the other fey in line. If the party encounters these and just goes toe-to-toe they could be killed. Of course they might also employ other tactics as well. Then again if they fight and win I'd reward them with significant resources for the accomplishment.


I tend to enjoy the 4 to 6 encounters a day thing. I often have dungeon with more encounters then that in it but the exist for the party to bypass instead of fight. My players almost never have the goal of explore the caves. Instead they have stop the ritual or save the king or steal the artifact first. I usually have a time limit that does not allow rest or only 1 rest. It is also usually a bad idea to stay long after an alarm goes off.

I am not sure I would enjoy a megadungeon just to explore it.


Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Low-level wizards aren't necessarily as weak as y'all think. Writing 1st level scrolls takes only 2 hours in a day (max 1 per day) and cost 12.5gp. Any clever wizard is going to be writing scrolls every day the party is adventuring or resting in town. This greatly expands their available spell pool.

And in combat? Someone mentioned the acid burst cantrip with an acid flask focus. Even a longbow with a decent DEX makes an elven wizard almost as good an archer as a dedicated low-level archer.

Some players "get" the idea of resource management, others don't. Those who don't should pay the price: PC death, even TPK. DMs shouldn't be so leery of PC death. A few deaths is a wonderful learning moment.

And as far as resting in the dungeon is concerned, there are ways to make it work. Secret rooms behind secret doors. Iron spikes spiking doors closed. Rope trick. Non-hostile dungeon denizens who could provide the equivalent of a handy inn. And more.


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Wheldrake wrote:
DMs shouldn't be so leery of PC death. A few deaths is a wonderful learning moment.

Is the lesson 'caring about your character and their story/development is pointless because the DM sure doesn't'?


Wheldrake wrote:
Low-level wizards aren't necessarily as weak as y'all think. Writing 1st level scrolls takes only 2 hours in a day (max 1 per day) and cost 12.5gp. Any clever wizard is going to be writing scrolls every day the party is adventuring or resting in town. This greatly expands their available spell pool.

Though I agree, note that creating scrolls expends spell slots. If a wizard wants more spells, he should scribe on days he doesn't go adventuring, or scribe a spell that's "left over" from the adventuring day.

Magic Item Creation, Creating Scrolls wrote:
The creator must have prepared the spell to be scribed (or must know the spell, in the case of a sorcerer or bard) and must provide any material component or focus the spell requires. A material component is consumed when she begins writing, but a focus is not. (A focus used in scribing a scroll can be reused.) The act of writing triggers the prepared spell, making it unavailable for casting until the character has rested and regained spells. (That is, that spell slot is expended from the caster's currently prepared spells, just as if it had been cast.)


Re: low-level wizards they begin play with some gold. I do the PFS thing and start everyone with 150. This means in my game the standard wizard may create several scrolls before the game ever begins.

Yes, making scrolls or potions or wands expends the spell you're using in the item. However if your PC spellcaster has any spells left at the end of the day, the GP spent on materials and the feat for making such items, it would be criminal for them NOT to be using it. Even if they're making scrolls of Unseen Servant tonight, that means in the morning they don't have to take that spell.

Even for martial characters long term dungeon hacking and sleeping in the dungeon are dicey propositions. They don't have many expendable resources to regenerate but they need to maintain a heightened level of vigilance. Suddenly perks like sleeping in armor from feats/traits becomes useful.

Bottom line: megadungeoneering isn't for every player. Talk to your players first. My standard speech is along the lines of "this game will involve a megadungeon. This in turn means resource management, knowing your limitations and playing to them as well as your strengths. There is a strong chance of character deaths; have no illusions that this is a reality. The game will be a marathon, not a sprint, but if you're willing we'll begin..."

If your players are still down, help them. If this is a marathon then provide them the resources to keep running. At low levels this might be as simple as an empty room with a single, well-defended entry point.

Never underestimate the power of a home base. In my current campaign the PCs have a small complex of rooms within a larger megadungeon. When they found it they crashed through a secret door that collapsed behind them. Within the complex they found a sparsely appointed alchemy library that had few useful tomes, an equally sparse bedroom, a broken old alchemy lab and a sealed well.

They eventually found a "back door" escape hatch that leads to the surface and is well hidden. They also scavenged a Good Lock and a scroll of Arcane Lock. They now have a single, secret way into the lair with a very dificult lock on it. They've also befriended some nearby fey on the surface for lookouts. Finally they cleared out all the old alchemy stuff, cleaned the place, and re-stocked it with survival gear.

Upon unsealing the well they found that it descends beneath an underground lake on a lower level of the dungeon. However they also found a side tunnel in the well-shaft. This tunnel takes them to the lakeshore from which they can access several other regions of the dungeon above.

Now suddenly they have a place to stow loot, rest, and recuperate. So far they've put it to good use re-stocking the library shelves with several tomes they've found plus materials for scrolls and an extra spellbook. The players joke about it but this lair is very nearly an NPC in the game for all it's utility.

Now imagine what happens when they start hitting upper levels. Teleport, sure, but what about Stone Shape, the Creation spells and Permanency. Suddenly from this humble hole in the ground these PCs can expand into the surrounding bedrock, even joining with the dungeon around them. The place might be outfitted with running water, grates to the surface for sunlight which in turn can grow plants. They could create an entire world for themselves here if they wanted.

And I encourage this. If the PCs are going to be successful on missions into the dungeon this is a valuable resource. I'm glad they have it and urge them to explore the lair's capabilities to the fullest.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

As Han Solo said "Lock the Doors, and hope they don't have blasters".

Maybe I'm showing my age here, but big dungeons and having to rest several times in them was pretty much all I did back in the AD&D days. The Party would find a defensible room, barricade the doors, set a guard rotation and rest, hoping for no random things to come break the doors down.

Even in Neverwinter Nights, Resting was something you had to do. I don't even think that was a 'hardcore' option.

This whole 'charging through a dungeon and clearing it in one go' seems to be a pretty recent phenomenon in the tabletop RPG realm.

So, to the OP, simply give a good defensible room every 'day' or so to let the party rest. If they seem to 'abuse' that (resting every other room), have their rest interrupted occasionally. If they ignore it, well that issue will straighten itself out on it's own.


That. Make sure that the party Survival/Knowledge (dungeoneering/geography/local) experts understand how risky it is to hole up in a random cavern and where the best spots to rest would be, but otherwise let them decide whether it's worth the risk to spend the night in Kobold Country.


Another thing the OP asked about were "encounter quantities." That's a bit math, a bit luck. The CR system is based around 4 PCs of relatively similar levels with a CR equal to their APL (average party level) expected to be a winnable fight that will sap a bit of their consumable resources. In 3x editions it was meant that a CR equal to APL would knock out 20% of the party's total resources, meaning 5 fights a day. I don't think that's explicitly stated in Pathfinder.

However CR isn't an exact science. There's no "perfect" number of encounters/day that the average party can handle. Consider: at 1st level a lucky axe swing by a single goblin can take out the party melee martial. On the flip side a well-prepared wizard who used starting gold to make scrolls has upwards of 10 1st level spells on them, not to mention an Acid Splash boosted by an Acid Flask focus for 1d3 +1 every round. That wizard could easily help the party win victory in more than 5 combats.

So I suppose how many fights/day will depend on your players. I would suggest, however that your dungeon leave empty space for breathers. In those old AD&D megadungeons there were often empty rooms, dead end corridors that DIDN'T have traps and such. The theory I've followed is 1/4 of your total dungeon is purely empty space. If you're planning a 10 room dungeon, 2 of those rooms wouldn't have an encounter.

Finally consider what you're trying to accomplish with your dungeon and your adventure. If you're religiously tracking XP for example and you want your PCs to level, it's going to take roughly 15-20 encounters equal to APL for them to gain that level. Placing challenges of varying CRs will adjust this number.

So again, considering 1st level, if you've got a wizard, fighter, cleric and rogue venturing into a megadungeon for the first time hunting for a maguffin that they need, you might give them a surface ruin with a main hall, 6 adjoining rooms they have decent access to, and a cellar level with an additional 3 rooms. Through the cellar they can find entry points to either a crypt sublevel with 12 rooms and a full level of the main dungeon with 46 rooms.

Of course, you're not anticipating they clear all 68 rooms. You're intending that they will follow clues you've left them through the course of the story to enter the main dungeon in search of the maguffin, retrieve it and escape alive with enough experience to hit level 2. You plan out then roughly 17 empty spaces among those 68 rooms. You also throw in a random encounter chart with a range of CRs from 1/3 - 2. Finally you plan about 35 set piece encounters of varying CRs and populate the last rooms with traps, puzzles, and hazards to challenge the PCs.

If the PCs are well-prepared and their luck holds, they should be able to clear out one section of the ruins (either the hall level or the cellar) and establish a base for themselves. This initial delve should involve, say, 4 set-piece encounters, a random encounter, a trap/hazard/puzzle all of varying CRs accompanied by a purely empty room.

At that rate they've pulled in perhaps 2 average treasure hoards for their level which means about 520 GP worth of loot. If you want them to keep going these may translate to roughly 10 potions, 20 scrolls, or a mixture of both alongside some coins and art pieces. Even at 4 potions and 8 scrolls you have just doubled the spell allotment for both the cleric and wizard PC for the day AND given each member of the group a resource to continue on. If you choose to give them other treasure hoards, random resources in the areas they've explored or perhaps they make allies among the dungeon they will have the tools to delve deeper in that first session.

Now all of this assumes average results on every roll. If the cleric can't hit the broad side of a barn, the rogue takes max damage from a pit trap or a random encounter yields up a goblin commando team, you may get different results. On the flip if the wizard is optimized for damage with their Acid Splash and they're routinely taking down a single foe every round with that spell alone the party doesn't need a bunch of wizard scrolls to keep going.

And, if that wall of text isn't enough, one last comment: Real Life. If you only have 4 hours per game and a few weeks between sessions, megadungeoneering may not be the best option. The players may forget why they're there, get bored with the lack of progress, and as a result you may see the 15 minute workday more often.


The random dungeon generator in the 1e DMG had rooms be empty on a d20 roll of 1-12. (Empty in this context meant no monster, treasure, or trap; an "empty" room could still contain furniture or other trappings.) I have no idea how closely published modules of that era adhered to this ratio, but I do recall that the tendency was for big dungeons in which a significant number of rooms didn't have an encounter.

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