The megadungeon in Morgansfort which i’ve been using for the ruined elven city of Malek is proving a bit problematic, because of its lack of sensible dungeon design. Now, it’s also problematic because I haven’t really included giant insects or the ecology necessary to sustain them in Alfheim, but I’m able to handwaive that as “evil elf magic”.
The dungeon’s first level is basically a small horizontal figure-8 in the middle of a large vertical figure-8. The northwest portion of the loop is closed off, however, to both the characters and to most wandering monsters by a giant nest of pony-sized ants. The choked up nature of a lot of the dungeon’s first floor makes random encounters a bit difficult to rationalize. Where was the monster going? Where was it coming from? There’s a neat trick mirror in one of the rooms that shows what happened an hour in the past (specifically a wandering group of goblins), but the room is located in such a place that the goblins wouldn’t have been there unless the party already ran into them coming the other way (away from the giant ant nest). I really like the idea that goblins are trying to take over this dungeon to use as a base, but the layout of the first level, the singular entry pointin the middle of the figure-8s, along with the infrequency of random encounters has made it harder to work in than I would like. The goblin encounters worked out a lot better above ground.
In retrospect, what I should’ve done was treat the goblins as a separate adventuring party, rather than a random encounter. Their presence would be felt in the wake of the effects they had on the dungeon, whether they were encountered or not.
This is also the first really deep dungeon that the party has hit, and it could take several sessions to clear it out. In the meantime, I worry that the story will drag. I probably shouldn’t have used this dungeon for this game, but that’s not the dungeon’s fault. Still, it’s given me a few places to showcase how messed up the elves are. Especially since I’ve gone ahead and made the Ghouls curse-bound elves.
Anyway, the party left the safety of the talking-face room and tried to finish clearing out as much of the 1st floor as they could. They started with the alchemical laboratory, where the lightning trapped door put some serious hurt on the goblin thief. They poked around the room for awhile, bagged the valuable alchemical equipment, and considered coming back some other day for the Kiln on the off chance they could bring back a team of engineers to tear the place apart stone by stone.
The party then trekked to the “dark room”, one of the many fun-but-not-really-thematically-connected tricks in the dungeon, where the room is filled with continual darkness and nothing else. This room would’ve probably been less fun if the party had not had the staff of light and dark; since they did, it was neat having them mess around with how a continual light source affected the continual dark, creating wispy maelstroms of flickering shadows. While the party was having fun playing with that, a giant ant showed up.
It was a pretty tough fight. The wizard, whose player could only play with us once, shot off a magic missile and vanished. The giant bug nearly killed the fighter, but the party was able to eventually take it down. If anything, they were sufficiently discouraged by the fight to try to face down an entire nest. As for the Bargrish the evil Wizard, I think I’ll turn him into a Wizard of Frobozz type character, who shows up randomly, casts a spell then leaves.
The party continued on to the octagonal room for the stirge fight. Much less of a headache than the ants, but still hurt some. They found the secret lever that would’ve disarmed the crossbow trap that they sprung much earlier on, but they didn’t know that.
Heading on to the upper loop of the vertical figure 8, the sneaky characters stumbled onto a random cursed elf who was wandering in circles. The cursed elf failed all of his attack rolls and was killed pretty quick. The party couldn’t figure out where it was headed, and honestly, off the top of my head, neither could I. But he was headed the same direction as the players, so I guess he’d come up past the stirges just a bit earlier. From where? I have no idea.
The mapper figured out that they’d made a full circle back to the ant colony (just on the other side). They found the aforementioned magic mirror and did some playing around with it. Again, I screwed up, because I should’ve had them run into goblins somewhere along that path between the main entrance at the middle of the figure-8s and the top of the vertical loop, but I’d forgotten about the mirror room and hadn’t really prepared for it. So, uh… there are goblins somewhere. I’ll assume that they quickly made their way back outside because screw this dungeon.
The thief pricked his finger on the trapped chest across the hall from the mirror, the room filled with poison gas. The monk managed to stick his foot in the door and get everybody out before they were too badly affected. Cheap trick, but it was harder to pull off than i would’ve liked. Oh, well.
One fun thing I was able to work in was the room where the giant shrew has one of the dungeon key rubies. I treated it as one of the shrews that the party had given its food to the first time. The fighter gave it some more food, so the shrew nuzzled the gem out of his hidey-hole. The party considered for a moment killing it to see if it had more treasure but opted not to. I know in descriptions, Giant Shrews are supposed to be super hostile, but in both encounters, the monsters had 10 or higher reaction rolls, so I went with it.
On the way to check out the last of the rooms that they hadn’t hit on the 1st floor, they scoped out the spitting cobra room. Lucky for the thief, the cleric still had a bottle of anti-venom; even if the monk could’ve collected herbs enough to make a potion, it could’ve either taken too long or they’d be picked apart by the goblin patrols in the woods.
On the way south, a green slime fell on the goblin ranger, who was burned half to death to get it off. Same thing happened to the fighter. Good times.
The illusory ladder down forever room was mistaken for a route to the second floor and was left for later. The teleporter room zapped the monk down to the cells. Took the monk about a half-hour in game time to get back to where everyone else was, but since he was the mapper, he found his way fairly quickly. As he did, the others peeked into the room where the bees were. “Anybody here remember those levels in Donkey Kong Country 2? It looks like that in there.”
Beaten up pretty good, the party decided to try to camp in the talking stone face room again. They found two cursed elves seated and listening to it saying unintelligible things. The ensuing fight was pretty rough, with two paralyzed heroes, but a few lucky rolls managed to keep it from becoming worse than it was.
As I said before, some variation of the phrase “We just need to burn this place to the ground” was uttered at least three times that night.
I definitely think I prefer running smaller dungeons to megadungeons. There are a lot of little traps and random things, but they don’t quite come together the way that the set pieces of the smaller mods I’ve run have. Also, for being so big, it’s kind of claustrophobic. With a dungeon laid out the way that Maze of Nuromen was, there was plenty of ways for things to come and go unseen, yet despite its openness, it had a very cozy feel. It was easier for characters to get a connection to the place. For Malek, I’ve done a lot of improvisations to give more than the most barebones detail and descriptions so I could make it fit. I think it goes back to my theory on dungeons and purpose. All dungeons have to have some sort of purpose to them: buildings were built for reasons, and even if that reason is a mystery to the explorers, making it a mystery to the DM can make it difficult to use. I was able to extrapolate enough elven-ness to make it usable, but I’m starting to wish I hadn’t. Most of the players still seem to be digging it, though.