Megadungeons reviewed

The OSR has spawned so many massive megadungeons that I have had to buy quite a few.  I played AD&D into its second edition, but never got to pick up Undermountain. I did spend quite a bit of time even then thinking about never ending corridors, and layer upon layer of labrynthian wierdness making its way into the Underdark. I drew isometric maps using the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide, and that passion renewed with Peter Jackson’s depiction of Moria in FotR.  Recently I have been following Dyson Logos’ excellent blog, and after this post, I ordered some more isometric graph paper.

From Lulu.com and Rpgnow.com I have been buying batches of big dungeons for inspiration.

The Dwimmermount  campaign is nothing short of brilliant.  An entire world, where the revised history puts a completely different spin on the origins and identities of the familiar fantasy races, feeds into and is focused on the megadungeon built into the mountain. The technomagical construction, the live interplay of the factions that have real reason to be where they are, the detailed descriptions of materials and magic items, and even the gags like centuries old demotivational posters and Star Trek references all work together to make it feel right. And by right, I mean clever, weird, old school and mysterious. It also explains the wierdness without limiting you. It is a sandbox, not a railroad, and just enough detail is given as to let you make it your own.  It is a wonderful piece of work. It manages to provide a valid explanation of how hybrids like owlbears and minotaurs come about, without there being a pawful of bloody feathers or unspeakable cattle violations.

There are some ideas shared between this and  Michael Curtis’ StoneHell Dungeon.  Both involve factions and technomagicial alternatives to Lichdom as a means of prolonging a spellcaster’s life. There are some similarities between the central villain of Dwimmermount and Stonehell’s plated mage that I enjoy; these ideas have similar inspirations but a very different flavor.

Castle of the Mad Archmage,   on the other hand, while having a definite history in Gygax’s Castle Greyhawk (and I owned the parody of that too) and a powerful central character who made it all function, and tons of delightful demi-planes, does not feel quite the same. Because it was trying to evoke not a memory of a thing, but the actual thing itself, sometimes it is a little strained, like someone trying to hard to retell a half-remembered joke.  There is very solid work in it, and definite levels of inspiration in all of these products.  I do like all three of my megadungeon purchases, but I just happen to like Dwimmermount the best of the group.  After all, they have Githyanki.