More Thoughts on a Mega-dungeon

First off, sorry for the lack of posts lately – real life interferes (not in a bad way, just busy).

I’ve started reading Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky (I’ve also played the video games).  The short version: about 15 years after WW III, survivors live in the increasingly hostile environs of the Moscow Metro.  The stations were once united under a central authority, but are now factionalized and hostile to one another.  They’re slowly loosing their grip on civilization and technology, slipping into barbarism and mysticism, while mutants and other new forms of post-apocalyptic life threaten their very existence.  If you’re a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, I recommend the book.

So, reading Metro 2033 has got me thinking again on mega-dungeon design.  A few weeks ago I thought about basing such a dungeon on the vast subterranean mega-cities built by the Soviets, designed to withstand direct nuclear attack.  However, after giving it more thought, for a number of reasons I think a Metro-like setting would actually make a better mega-dungeon than a post-apocalyptic bunker-city.

A map of the Moscow Metro

A map of the Moscow Metro

In my mind, the best reason to use a Metro-style layout is the flow-chart representation of the stations and subway lines allows one to compartmentalize the design and construction of the mega-dungeon as a whole.  Instead of writing the dungeon one vast level at a time, each station can serve as a mini-dungeon, connected to the greater whole by the rail lines.  I choose a starting area for the party and then design the closest areas first.  The rest can be filled in as needed, or as time permits.

I’ve also been thinking of late of the idea of setting an entire game inside of a dungeon.  There is no ‘outside’ to return to.  The PC’s home town is actually a refuge inside the dungeon itself.  The Metro concept fits this idea perfectly.  It may still be possible to go outside, but the surface environment would be incredibly dangerous and hostile…perhaps a fitting end-game challenge for experienced characters.

I’ve looked at a number of metro maps.  I found the New York City and Tokyo subway maps to be far to cluttered and complicated to use for a campaign map.  On the other end of the spectrum, the BART map (Bay Area Rapid Transit) was far too simple.  Two viable alternatives are the Washington DC metro map, and the London Underground.  Both are large and complex enough to be interesting, and yet remain manageable.

Still, the Moscow Metro map calls out to me.  Perhaps I’m biased from the book and games, but to me that map seems to have a perfect symmetry, for a mega-dungeon at least.  I can easily imagine each branch line controlled by a different faction: mad scientists on one line, robots on another, morlocks down there, mutant revolutionaries over here, human supremacists against them all.  And lets not forget the Mindflayers…gotta have Mindflayers.  And in the center, something approaching “civilization.”  Again, I’m probably biased by the book, as factionalism in the story is organized along the subway lines as well.

Lest you think this makes for a lot of “railroading” (pun partially intended), the blank spaces between lines are filled with all manner of maintenance tunnels, sewer connections, utility rooms and the endless infrastructure of the under-city.  None of this is shown on public maps, therefore it comprises a vast terra-incognito, home to the encroaching darkness.  And by braving these hazardous nether regions (or risking a trip on the surface), it may be possible to bypass the heavy security at the start of a faction’s line, to hit them in the rear where they may be more vulnerable.  Plus, who knows what unclaimed salvage may exist in the bowels of the metro, where few dare to tread?

A final note on the idea: Metro 2033 is a grim and gritty setting, probably not suitable for a long term campaign.  I’d want to gonzo-up the dungeon a bit, mixing a bit of rayguns and robots in with my swords and sorcery.  So it’d probably be a science-fantasy setting, rather than a straight up post-apocalypse setting.  I’m thinking of using something like Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or Swords and Wizardry, so the game would still be identifiable as D&D (ish).  What’s more, it wouldn’t even have to be an actual metro; it could be anything, any type of ancient, vast subterranean vault constructed to shelter survivors against some long forgotten cataclysm on the surface (instead of nuclear apocalypse, maybe it was the Cthulu-pocalypse?).  In fact, the dots on the map don’t have to be stations; they too can be anything: underground fortresses, temples, battlegrounds, hideouts, slaver bases, mining pits, catacombs and settlements.

Cheers.

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