Friday, 8 December 2017

Megadungeons - Why is Stonehell praised and Dwimmermount condemned?

So, I'm running Stonehell. I nearly decided to run Dwimmermount, but Stonehell is much easier to fit into my established Wilderlands campaign. Been doing lots of megadungeon reading & thinking. My Stonehell campaign is going great I think, both the tabletop and online sessions. From what I can see, Stonehell generally gets a fair bit of praise and not much criticism, although the elegant "1 page dungeon" presentation means *extremely* sparse description. It certainly has plenty of "5 rats and 2000 coppers" - yet this doesn't appear to be a problem. Yet Dwimmermount, which was heavily influenced by Stonehell, was mercilessly attacked for, well, being the same as Stonehell (the final version is more verbose, and that gets attacked too). 

AFAICT, the criticisms directed at Dwimmermount in Joe the Lawyer's game could just as well be applied by my players to my Stonehell game - no 'story', empty rooms, torch sconces that (usually) don't move - yet they seem to love it, both the grognards I GM for online and the tabletop group who include complete newbies, and three players who came with me through 64 sessions of often-linear Paizo hackfest 'story' AP adventures and seem very very happy with the change of pace, with exploring vast dungeon complexes in search of gold and carting it in triumph back to town.

Is it a group thing? Did Tenkar run a bad game that night? What was the difference, I wonder. Maybe they were looking at it as a one shot, not campaign play. Maybe - I suspect this - they were thinking in Paizo AP or TSR competition module terms, of the dungeon as a place to go to achieve goal X then leave. But megadungeons are environments, not modules. They are a setting, designed for campaign play, with a mix of exploration, combat & social interaction - use of Reaction checks (2d6 or otherwise) is absolutely vital IME.

Finally, hostility to James M for the late Kickstarter delivery and/or for his personal qualities (being a traditionalist Catholic, his professorial air, his liking for minutiae) could be a factor I guess.

Anything else I'm missing?

Discussion here

Thursday, 7 December 2017



Cave Bear View Post
Another problem is that we seem to be assuming that nuclear war will be the most likely cause of our civilization's decline.
Epidemics, ecological collapse, and declining birth rate can do the job too.

Epidemics like the Black Death (with 50% death rate in Europe) seem to be recovered from very quickly - infrastructure remains in place, there are just fewer people using it. Ecological collapses have been significant historically, though not so much recently. I could imagine something like the recent issue with pesticides killing off all the honey bees (& other insects), or monoculture disease as with the Irish potato famine, as potentially leading to some sort of crisis. But there seems to be a lot of global excess capacity for food production currently (albeit concentrated in the USA & Canada) so I suspect this would be localised. 

I remember a decade or so ago when they were converting corn to ethanol because of a supposed coming fuel shortage - it resulted in an actual global food shortage because most of the planet now apparently lives off subsidised US food exports, sometimes disguised as 'aid'. I could imagine a disease, dust bowl or other event (Yellowstone eruption?) in North America reducing food yields dramatically, resulting in global starvation - mostly outside North America, since remaining food would be eaten there first.

Declining birth rates - likely did contribute to the collapse of the western Roman empire (& decline of the eastern RE). As seen there though, only a major issue if the declining population is replaced by dominant immigrants/conquerors who are unable/unwilling to maintain the more complex society of the declining population, resulting in a step-change collapse. Sans immigration, a society like Japan with declining birth rate & population but no change in ethny will not decline radically.

Also, looking at WRE case, initially there was only a total civilisational collapse in Britain, which had not been fully culturally Romanised. Once the Legions left, the native Britons were struggling to maintain Roman civilisation even before the Anglo-Saxon conquests. This resembles the situation in some areas undergoing European de-colonisation in the 20th century after WW2; the colonising civilisation had not truly taken root. Civilisational collapse in the Mediterranean region of the former WRE was only completed 300 years later with the Arab-Muslim conquests, which caused an ecological collapse in North Africa (goats ate the olive trees) and raiders/pirates destroyed sea trade and forced abandonment of coastal territories in southern Europe. See The Fall of Rome by Ward-Perkins for lots of data on this. The north African pottery records are fascinating! 

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Megadungeons - My Stonehell Review

Megadungeons I own that I can recall are:

3e Castle Blackmoor
Greyhawk Ruins
I also have the 4e Undermountain book and some sub-mega dungeons like 3e Caverns of Thracia & Dyson's Delves, both of which I use in my Wilderlands, and Lost City of Barakus which I ran for a campaign ca 2004-2006.

Of the full megadungeons I would say Dwimmermount & Stonehell are by far the best presented and the two that strongly call me to use them. Dwimmermount is more professionally presented and reads very well IMO (I have the advantage of not having backed the Kickstater so no frustrations) but requires a lot of buy-in, you pretty much have to use its own world/setting, myths, history etc. It doesn't give quite as much freedom to innovate as I like. Stonehell by contrast was easy to drop into my Wilderlands Barbarian Altanis setting with minimal tweaking. The presentation took a bit of grokking, especially the way each section has 2 intro pages before the map - I like maps first - but I find in play it runs beautifully well, enough so that I bought both print & pdf copies separately. For monsters it uses Labyrinth Lord as a base but with many, many new monsters (which I convert to 5e D&D, the system I'm using). The prison theme is not inherently very attractive so to attract adventurers I have a rumour the Mad Vizier's treasure is buried there, plus dreams of the extra-dimensional entity infesting the place - the Nixthisis, who sends out dreams attracting violent types to the dungeon... a bit meta. :D

Overall so far after running it for a few weeks (3 sessions tabletop, about half a dozen online) I am enjoying it a lot. Significantly, at the end of a Stonehell session I feel energised & eager for more, whereas running WotC & Paizo stuff I tend to feel drained and eager to finish up. That's about the biggest compliment I can give.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Some good megadungeon links (and one bad one)

Benoist's discussion -

Hack & Slash basic megadungeon play and procedures -

Creighton Broadhurst Megadungeon Design -

These guys all grok the procedural, partially randomised, nature of good megadungeon exploratory play, where both GM and players are playing to discover what happens.

This guy doesn't grok it at all, and tries to shoehorn a linear campaign into a Megadungeon environment - - as also seen in eg Wizards' 3e D&D "Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk"- good examples of what not to do at least long term. Setting a short linear adventure, like the Moria section of Lord of the Rings, in a largely unmapped megadungeon can work ok if the campaign focus is on something else. But a whole campaign of this control freak illusionism wastes the strengths of the megadungeon concept: the ability to provide but limited but genuine choice/freedom.

DM David -

Edit: EOTB recommends

Some good discussion of this post at

Monday, 4 December 2017

Falling in 5e

Re falling long distances in 5e - last night saw a third level dwarf walk away from a 100' fall. Hmm...

The damage is low compared to earlier editions, & for uninterrupted falls 50'+ I reckon I'm going to institute a house rule requiring a CON save or die, DC 1 per 10' to max 27 at terminal velocity. Bouncing off a shaft on way down (acrobatics or athletics) could negate that though - again DC 1 per 10' looks right.

Monday, 27 November 2017

5e D&D - Rolling vs Passive Perception

In my new 5e Stonehell campaign, as GM I've taken to rolling for spot difficulty vs the PC's Passive Perception.

Easy - d20
Moderate - d20+5
Hard - d20+10

Example: So the players have their highest PP PC the cat girl Bright Star of the East on point with PP 16. She enters a room with a secret door, I roll d20+10 (Hard DC) for the difficulty of spotting it, get 6 and say "You notice a concealed door..."
This has worked really really well and is a case where not having the DCs listed in advance has helped a lot.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

What do you like about megadungeons?

I used to quite dislike & never use them - I'm a bit claustrophobic IRL and I hate the idea of being stuck in a dungeon for a whole campaign. I still don't much like the idea that "the dungeon IS the campaign" - I like a lot of wilderness exploration and politics/war. But I've come to really appreciate the power of what James Maliszweski called the "tentpole megadungeon" as default activity in a sandbox campaign - it's always there, it always offers adventure, risk & reward. Neither players nor GM need ever be stuck for what to do now - the dungeon always beckons.
Justin Alexander discussed the importance of a default activity in a long term RPG, and I find it's extremely true. It takes a lot of pressure off the GM to come up with plots; it takes pressure off the players to 'find the fun' - if they're not sure what to do now, they go to the megadungeon.
The design with stacked levels suitable for PCs from 1st to say 10th level also works well; giving players a lot of choice in the threat level they choose to face, and allowing for smaller & larger PC groups - eg 2 3rd level PCs may choose to stay on level 1, where 6 PCs might go to level 3 or 4. This works best with gold for xp & more gold on lower levels, though killing bigger monsters on lower levels also gives more XP. DMDavid just posted a good discussion -

So currently my ideal sandbox game has a detailed wilderness with multiple seeded dungeons and at least one megadungeon within a half day of the starter town. My Ghinarian Hills Wilderlands sandbox actually has three big dungeons (Dyson's Delve, Caverns of Thracia, Stonehell) within 8 miles or so of the starter town Selatine.

I find you can't have too many megadungeons.