15 June 2020

grodog's Favorite Mega-Dungeons

Some info about my favorite mega-dungeons, from the classics to the newest, hot-off-the-presses OSR titles (well, "new" as of today, 15 June 2020 anyway....). 

This post was inspired by some discussions over on the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea forum, as well as a similar thread over on TheRPGSite.   The questions raised in those boards were:
  • Which mega-dungeons do you like, and why? 
  • Which mega-dungeons have you used in play?

The Quilt Map -
Map by Tony "Wheggi" Rosten

grodog's Thoughts on Well-Designed Mega-Dungeons -- The Stuff that Matters at the Table

I think that for me what I like about a mega-dungeon really varies, based on who I've been playing with (or sometimes, working with).  I've really enjoyed nearly all of the mega-dungeons that I've played in or run, but I've also generally had the wonderful pleasure of excellent DMs and players, which makes all the difference in the world in terms of the game experience at the table.

Thinking through the mega-dungeons I'm familiar with, the stand out qualities that I love to play through, and the mega-dungeons that bring that to the table are:

  • Best Environments to Explore and Map:  Castle El Raja Key, Maure Castle, Caverns of Thracia, Foolsgrave
  • Most-Fun Encounters:  Castle Greyhawk, Foolsgrave, Rich Franks' mega-dungeon
  • Most-Fun Puzzles, Enigmas, and Centerpiece Encounters:  Castle Greyhawk, Maure Castle, WG5, ASE1/2-3, Undermountain
  • Coolest MapsArden Vul, Castle of the Mad Archmage, Foolsgrave, The Quilt Map, Undermountain, Vladikavkaz 
  • Best Presentation in Print:  None*
  • Pulls It All Together:  Caverns of Thracia, Foolsgrave, Maure Castle, Tomb of Abysthor

* In terms of best-published format/presentation for a mega-dungeon, I don't think that we've seen any stand-out products deliver on the goods on that yet.  Necromancer Games build out a good standard template for dungeon levels between Rappan Athuk and Tomb of Abysthor, and The Grand Temple of Jing attempted to design a new layout format for the mega-dungeon (similar to what Ptolus attempted for the massive-city sourcebook), but neither product quite achieved their overall goal on those fronts, due to other, over-shadowing issues with the products (horrible maps in RA the first go-round, while the KS version of GToJ didn't really pursue the usability goals of the first version of the dungeon).  

A well-built layout focused on at-the-table usability, married to a brilliant  book design could really distinguish a future mega-dungeon product, and potentially allow it to leapfrog into the top of the list....


Castle Zagyg - Mouths of Madness and The Storerooms
Dungeon Level - Cartography by Jeff Talanian

Mega-Dungeons grodog has Played

  • Castle El Raja Key - written and DM'd by Rob Kuntz (pre-published version)
  • Caverns of Thracia - written by Jennell Jaquays, DM'd by Jon Hershberger
  • Dark Tower - written by Jennell Jaquays, DM'd by Jon Hershberger
  • Foolsgrave - written and DM'd by Chainsaw (pre-published version)
  • Jakallan Underworld - written by Phil Barker, DM'd by Victor Raymond (pre-published version)
  • Thieves Fortress Badabaskor - written by Bob Bledsaw & Mark Summerlott, DM'd by Jon Hershberger

Mega-Dungeons grodog has Run

  • Castle Greyhawk - grodog's version/The Lair of Thelmon Onvalth - my own version of Castle Greyhawk (pre-published version)
  • Castle Greyhawk - EGG and RJK - Bottle City, EX1-2, WG6, etc., etc.
  • Castle El Raja Key/Maure Castle - RJK - WG5, The Statuary, Chambers of Antiquities, Warlock's Walk (co-DM'd with Rob Kuntz at GenCon 2007)
  • Mythrus Tower - Matt Finch
  • Temple of Elemental Evil - Gary Gygax with Frank Mentzer
  • Tomb of Abysthor - Clark Peterson and Bill Webb 
  • Undermountain - Ed Greenwood - Box set 1, Dragon articles

Bottle City level of Castle Greyhawk -
map by Rob Kuntz

Mega-dungeons grodog has Helped to Design, Develop, Edit, and/or Publish

  • Castle Greyhawk - grodog's version/The Lair of Thelmon Onvalth - my own version of Castle Greyhawk, including my version of The Black Reservoir (based on EGG story vs. RJK level) and The Quilt Map (based on Tony Rosten's map)
  • Castle Greyhawk - RJK - Bottle City (editing, development)
  • Castle of the Mad Archmage - Joe Bloch (editing/development work abandoned when Black Blade contract expired and Joe pursued publication on his own)
  • Maure Castle - Warlock's Walk - RJK (editing)
  • The Twisting Stair centerfold mega-dungeon - Tony Rosten and Allan Grohe
    (editing, development)

Oerth Journal # 23 - dedicated to Maure Castle
Oerth Journal # 23 -
dedicated to Maure Castle

Mega-Dungeons grodog has Read but Neither Run Nor Played

  • Anomalous Subsurface Environment - Patrick Wetmore - Levels 1 and 2-3
  • Arden Vul - Rick Barton (pre-published version)
  • Barrowmaze - Greg Gillespie (first versions from Kickstarter, prior to expansion in Barrowmaze Complete)
  • Castle Blackmoor - First Fantasy Campaign as well as the 3.x versions
  • Castle Greyhawk - Castle Zagyg, WG7, WGR1, Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk, etc., etc.
  • Castle Xyntillian - Gabor "Melan" Lux
  • The Darkness Beneath - many levels published in Fight On!
  • Dwimmermount - James Malizewski
  • The Grande Temple of Jing - Danny O'Neill & Diverse Hands
  • Mines of Khumar - Stefan Poag
  • Rappan Athuk - Clark Peterson & Bill Webb - R1-3, Rappan Athuk boxed set (original)
  • Ruins of Kwalishar - Tim Kask (pre-published version)
  • Stonehell - Michael Curtis - Vol 1: Down Night-Haunted Halls
  • Undermountain - Ed Greenwood & Diverse Hands - Box set 2, the Fireplace level (Dungeon Magazine), a smattering of modules too
  • Vladikavkaz - Keith Sloan (pre-published version)

Castle Xyntillan - by Gabor Lux,
Cover art by Peter Mullen

Mega-Dungeons grodog has Neither Read Nor Played

  • Arden Vul - Rick Barton (final/published version)
  • The Black City - from Dreams in the Lich House blog 
  • Castle Triskelion - from eponymous blog
  • DCC #51 Castle Whiterock - Goodman Games
  • Forbidden Caverns of Archaia - Greg Gillespie
  • Gunderholfen - G. Hawkins 
  • Highfell: The Drifting Dungeon - Greg Gillespie
  • Mike's Dungeons - Geoffrey McKinney
  • Numenhalla - published serially in Megadungeon magazine
  • Stonehell Vol 2: Into the Heart of Hell - Michael Curtis
  • The World's Largest Dungeon - AEG

If you know of other mega-dungeons that I should check-out that don't appear in the lists, do please chime in! :D