Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Into the Megadungeon Episode 2 "Little Persistent Worlds"

I'm very excited to release Episode 2 of my podcast Into the Megadungeon. In this episode I interviewed Nick Kuntz about their megadungeon campaign, The Twilight Age. I've known Nick for a long time. They were one of the players in my long-running original Ultan's Door campaign, playing primarily as the saucy teenage gonif Mia. During the early hellish days of the pandemic Nick launched their megadungeon campaign, which I've played in now for a few years as the wizard Phasmo. 

We talk about a lot of things in this episode, including the rewards and challenges of magedungeon campaigns with large player rosters; the importance of factions in megadungeons; and how megadungeons can function as "little persistent worlds", where the stories that emerge are less about protagonists and more about an abiding place.  

Without further ado, here is the episode on the largest of the podcast platforms:

Episode 2 "Little Perisstent Worlds" on Spotify

Episode 2 "Little Persistent Worlds" on Apple Podcasts

Episode 2 "Little Persistent Worlds" on Google Podcasts

Further Reading 

Art by the Inimitable Evlyn Moreau

First off, Nick is starting a megadungeon newsletter! You can read the first issue and subscribe to it here. The first issue, accompanied by Nick's illustrations and maps, "Let the Adventure Begin!" talks about megadungeons as a "good enough" art form, and discusses of Jack Kirby's comics on Nick's faction design. The first issue of this newsletter is the ideal pairing for this episode of the podcast. 

If you want to see what a functional megadungeon campaign blog actually looks like, I recommend highly Nick's Underworld Adventurer blog for their Twlight Shores campaign. Check out some recent session recaps, or peruse the archives for house rules and setting elements! (Attentive readers may even discover the fate of the Eye of Terror discussed at some length in the episode.) For those more interested in Nick's illustrations, check out their instagram account here

For more on large player rosters, I highly recommend watching this video by Ben Milton at Questing Beast. Milton here talks about how the presupposed play style of early editions of D&D involved an "open table" with large player rosters. While you're at, it's also worth your time to check out the "Open Table Manifesto" by Justin Alexander. 

For more on emergent stories, you could read this post I wrote on the topic. Nick is arguing that large player roster games megadungeon campaigns supercharge this feature and take it in an interesting direction. This was probably the biggest revelation for me to come out of playing in Nick's game.

At one point Nick refers to an old campaign, where six months of play emerged from a random encounter roll near a castle that resulted in a jousting challenge. For the charming jousting minimgame in OD&D (Original D&D) check out Fantastic Medieval Campaigns Appendix A, pp. 188-189, available for free here.

Finally, Nick refers at one point to the fact that a beholder in OSE is called an “Eye of Terror”. “OSE” stands for Old School Essentials, a retroclone—a repackaging and modern presentation of an older ruleset—of B/X D&D, the Basic/Expert edition of D&D written by Tom Moldvay, Dave Cook, and Stephen Marsh. The Open Games License (OGL) allows reprinting of older ruleset like this, but reserves some terms as proprietary to Wizards of the Coast, including “beholder”, which OSE renames “Eye of Terror”. You can learn more about Old School Essentials here.

You can find a full text trasncript of Episode 2 “Little Persistent Worlds” here

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Into the Megadungeon Episode 1 "Mysteries"

I am excited to share the very first episode “Mysteries” of my brand new podcast Into the Megadungeon, where I interview veteran GMs about their amazing megadungeon campaigns, campaigns focused on a single adventuring location with 100’s of rooms spread across many levels. It’s my way of exploring this largely lost play style and contributing to its possible revival. The podcast focuses on the actual experience of GMs at the table. You can expect to hear details about their campaigns, what they learned through play, some tips and techniques, and just maybe a bit of theory—but always grounded in practice.

We start in Episode 01 “Mysteries” with James Maliszewski, author of the blog Grognardia, whom I interview about his Dwimmermount campaign. Among other things, James and I discuss how a GM can make a single dungeon hold the interest and excitement of players. Without further ado, here are links to the podcast!

Episode 01 "Mysteries" on Spotify 

Episode 01 "Mysteries" on Apple Podcasts

Episode 01 "Mysteries" on Google

Reader’s Notes to Episode 01

With each episode, I will share “reader’s notes here. If you read these notes before listening to an episode, you’ll have everything you need to know to listen to the episode! For the curious, the links the notes contain can also be used as a springboard to learn more about the history and practice of megadungeon play.

James ran his Dwimmermount campaign as an experiment to learn about the original megadungeon playstyle practiced at the very beginning of the hobby. As part of that experiment he used the very first version of dungeons and dragons (OD&D) that had been designed specifically for this style of play. He mentions in passing several terms and names that refer to these older editions and early game products. (Don’t worry, in later episodes of the podcast I interview GMs who have developed brand new rulesets to run this style of game, as well as some who use fifth edition D&D to play megdungeon campaigns.)

Glossary of Names and Terms

A young Dave Arenson smiling.

Dave Arneson: One of the two creators of Dungeons & Dragons. Arneson ran the very first games of what would become Dungeons & Dragons, which explored the dungeons beneath Castle Blackmoor. This was both the very first tabletop roleplaying campaign and the very first megadungeon campaign. Castle Blackmoor was never published in its full form.

Gary Gygax: The other creator of Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax ran the second megadungeon campaign exploring the dungeons beneath Castle Greyhawk. Gygax went on to head TSR and authored several early rulebooks of D&D, as well as some classic modules. Castle Greyhawk was also never published in its full form. But Gygax wrote a wonderful little article in 1975 for Europa, a wargaming zine (amateur magazine), telling aspiring GMs what they need to do to set up their very own megadungeon that contains a tantalizing overview of the different levels of Castle Greyhawk. Check it out here.

The contents of white box D&D.

Original Dungeons & Dragons: Also called “OD&D”, “0E”, or “white box”, this was the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons that came in a little white box. The box contained the three little brown books titled “Men & Magic”, “Monsters & Treasure”, and “Underworld & Wilderness Adventures”. Curious about the rules? A reader friendly, and cheaper, alternative which I heartily recommend is Fantastic Medieval Campaigns, which accurately presents the original rules in a clean and attractive modern format, available for free here.

Philotomy’s OD&D Musings: A free document by Jason Cone, AKA Philotomy Jurament, published in 2007 introducing contemporary players to playing with the Original Dungeons & Dragons rules. The section on “creating an old school dungeon” is pure gold and should be read by those interested in megadungeon play. It is available for free here

Supplement I Greyhawk: The first supplement for Original Dungeons & Dragons detailing the Greyhawk setting and presenting many optional rules that became staples of later editions of D&D including “variable weapon damage”, the thief (i.e. rogue) class, among others.

Supplement II Blackmoor: The second supplement for Original Dungeons & Dragons detailing the Blackmoor setting, the monk class, and a far out adventure, The Temple of the Frog, that combines pulp sci-fi and fantasy elements.

Supplement III Eldritch Wizardry: The third supplement for Original Dungeons & Dragons, introducing the druid class and psionics, as well as many of the demons and devils such as Orcus that have become staples of the D&D multiverse.

An image of the cover of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, showing adventurers being attacked by alien tentacles.

S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks: A module written by Gary Gygax, where PCs explore a dungeon inside a crashed spaceship!

Tekumel: The richly imagined campaign world of M.A.R. Barker, based on non-European inspirations including meso-American and Indian sources. TSR published an early version of rules for play in this campaign world, Empire of the Petal Throne.

Clark’s Third Law: Arthur C. Clarke, British science fiction author, enumerated 3 laws over the course of his writings about speculation and future technological change. The 3rd law is, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

#Dungeon23 Challenge: This Sean McCoy’s challenge to create a 365 room megadungeon dungeon in 2023, one room per day. You can read about the original challenge here. I highlighted some of the most dynamic entries I was able to find in the early weeks of the challenge in posts here.

Grognardia: This is James Maliszewski’s prolific blog, dedicated to all things old school gaming. I recommend reading James’ Dwimmermount posts to get a sense of how the campaign developed from modest beginnings to a dynamic campaign exploring the secrets of an entire setting. You can find the blog here, and the Dwimmermount posts are collected here.

As always, if you would prefer to receive these podcast announcements and reader's notes directly to your inbox, then please consider subscribing to my substack, Missives from Beyond the Veil of Sleep, which you can find here