Under the Pyramid: A Megadungeon — Level One

The very first dungeon I created was a double pyramid. Imagine a diamond shaped building buried in the ground do that only a large pyramid is visible. As might be expected, this dungeon was awful. People had fun playing in it, but it was boring, packed with rooms to the point that it would have needed lots magic to keep it from collapsing in on itself, and far too random. So I blew it up when I created a new dungeon.

There was a huge explosion and pieces of pyramid went flying everywhere. When the dust cleared and people got brave enough to go to the site, they discovered a huge hole in the ground with a over 400 high colossal statue rising out of the pit so that only its head and shoulders were above ground level. The statue appeared to be of some unknown deity of chaos. While it never seemed to move while being watched, its stance would shift slightly with time. No one knew what it was. After a time the common story was that it was a forgotten deity of chaos somehow imprisoned in slow time — slowed to where one year seemed like only a few seconds. Truth? No one knows, but it made a great story.

One could climb down the statue with some effort and equipment, but adventurers soon discovered that one of the giant teeth was a illusion hiding the entrance to a tunnel leading to a staircase spiraling down the center of the statue to a hidden door in the left foot of the colossal statue. Oddly, this stairway did not seem to make too many people doubt the frozen chaos deity story.

I did not draw out this dungeon on graph paper. Instead I mapped it the way we had made maps for the “Adventure” game on the DEC10 in college (called often “Colossal Cave” when it became one of the first text adventure games for home computers), circles for rooms connected by lines. The numbered room descriptions gave actual room dimensions and info on connecting corridors in a handful of words (e.g. “40×40 ft stone room, stone corridors north and east, locked wood door east”).

The first level was huge and centered more or less on the statue. This level had been the home of a large goblin tribe, but the chief had died and the tribe had split into two factions that had their headquarters in the northeast and west respectively and constantly fought for control of the level. There were lots of empty rooms to fight over. One corridor leading from the statue room to the major staircase to the next level was magiced to repel goblins. A strange low level magic user with a item that let him create and control zombies lived in a hidden sublevel. He had goblin zombies, naturally. A staircase in a hidden room lead up as far as one wanted to climb but went nowhere — yet there were persistent rumors of odd creatures using it to enter the dungeon. There were at least three magical fountains on this level, one in each of the goblin home bases and one that seems to move about randomly. According to the both groups of goblins, there was a hidden treasure room where their former chief kept his loot but he took its location and the secret way to enter to his grave. There were several ways down to lower levels — including a fissure with a red glow far below.

Why am I describing this mid-1970s dungeon design effort? I discovered my notes on the dungeon in a file over the weekend and figured that others would be interested in what I did.

Coming soon: the second level.

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4 Responses

  1. Al says:

    I for one am always interested in Megadungeon shop-talk, thanks!:)

  2. Jer says:

    Any chance we could see that map? It sounds like something I'd be interested in seeing.

    I actually like the idea of having a simple "graph structure" map instead of the gridded rooms and corridors format that tradition dictates. I fought against it for a long time – mostly I think because in one of the early Basic Set books I remember there was a section on mapping that denigrated the idea of just having "boxes connected by lines" as a map. But as far as I'm concerned now it's the way to go – my cartography skills generally stink and I've never found that maps help much in giving me inspiration for my descriptions anyway. (Though with that kind of structure you have to worry about about creating impossible geometry in your dungeon – or not if your dungeon is supposed to be some kind of Lovecraftian geometric nightmare anyway…)

  3. Randall says:

    Jer: Unfortunately, I don't have the map or even the map keys. All I found was the notes I wrote up on the dungeon before I actually did the level by level mapping and keying. With luck, I may come across the maps some day.

    Impossible geometry is easily handled by slightly sloping corridors or the like "impossible" areas are over or under another part of the level — or even "mapmaking error". 🙂

  4. Randall says:

    BTW, I just noticed this was my 200th post to this blog.