Pondering: Getting to the Good Parts in a Megadungeon
Thinking out loud: suppose you’ve got an episodic megadungeon campaign.
Each session, the group picks a location in the megadungeon to explore. Sometimes these locations are already deep within the dungeon. Now, a well-designed megadungeon has multiple entrances, some of which provide ready access to deeper parts. But what if those entrances haven’t been found yet? Reality impedes our gaming quite enough – how much time do we spend just “getting to the good parts”? I'm pondering a game mechanic - whether a random roll, skill check or something more or less involved that can shorten that process. I haven't made one yet, but I'm putting this out here for feedback.
Some groups may spend precious game time working through the map (newly restocked as a megadungeon should) attempting to avoid encounters. Other games or groups may just hand wave away this difficulty and start play deep within the dungeon. I’d consider that, but it seems to remove the rewards of finding new, better entrances, the forging of alliances for safe passage, the discovery of maps, the acquisition of guides, etc.
A middle way between the two may be to use a mechanic that defines a quick resolution of the challenge of “getting there” for when “getting there” isn’t half the fun. This mechanic could be bypassed if the group has the right tools or connections: A rat catcher may know the sewers really well; a treaty with the goblins may give you safe passage through their warrens. The group may also have the means to limit the risks of traveling over the ground they’ve already passed: an accurate map, a group invisibility spell, knowledgeable guides or whatever they can contribute to influence the mechanic.
This is somewhat the reverse of Jeff's "Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom" roll, which is used as a shortcut for leaving the dungeon instead of entering it.
This also would allow the party to attempt to find a portion of the dungeon that they don’t actually know the location of; perhaps they’ve heard the rumor of a new level or The Grand Staircase to the Depths or the Puppetmaster’s Arena, the Forge of Fancy Weapon Making or whatever. This mechanic could be used to “get there”, especially if the DM knows that the challenges of getting there are within the party’s ability (it was designed for lower level parties for example) but still would be tedious to play through. (This assumes a dungeon written for multiple parties of differing levels, etc.)
|Yep, THIS Grand Staircase to the Depths|
Different mechanics that could be used for this “middle way”:
- An adaptation of the Adventures in Middle Earth’s Journey Rules
- A skill challenge/montage ala 4th edition
- This Danger/Opportunity tool
- Random roll – a % change assigned by the DM
- Skill check – like the random roll but defined by a skill
Benefits of Successfully Getting There
Besides just “getting there” and gaining access to the dungeon location they want to explore, the party may gain some benefit, considering that they took a risk. This could include: treasure, allies, map information, more knowledge of where they’re going, bonuses to abilities, etc.
Consequences of Partially Failing the Getting There Mechanic
Depending upon the mechanic used (list above), the party could succeed in arriving at their chosen destination, but with a cost. This could be resources of the party: time, rations, equipment like rope and pitons. Or the consequences could be character resources: damage, spells cast. Perhaps even the sacrifice of a henchman?
Consequences of Failing the Getting There Mechanic
The party begins play in some obstacle – either encounter or some danger like a trap either in a known or unknown location between their starting point and end point.
As players and DMs, what do you think? Is this an exercise in pedantry? Is it "cheating" the work of getting through a megadungeon? DMs that run megadungeons - do you handwave this step? Would you propose your groups use something like this?