My current project, which has detracted a bit from my blogging, is the culmination of many of the ideas I have been collecting and forming recently as Ulin-Uthor, The Dim Expanse has become somewhat bogged down by its layers of detail. These ideas and sentiments are due in no small part to my ongoing Cover to Cover reading of the original D&D, Volumes I-III.
The Dismal Depths was originally envisioned as an answer to my dissatisfaction with the involved design approach I had set forth for myself with The Dim Expanse. Fear not, The Dim Expanse is still going to be completed, but it has certainly given me an understanding of why there are so few actual honest-to-goodness megadungeons in print.
Perhaps the end result for The Dim Expanse will fall somewhere between its current state, and this new approach used for The Dismal Depths.
The notion of a no-frills megadungeon was the kindling for this project, but what truly pushed it over the edge into actual design process was a comment by one of my favorite odd74 posters, Dwayanu in this thread. For ease of clicking and scrolling, here's the blurb:
I'm trying out an approach of mapping by sectors of 30 x 30 squares. That leaves room on the same page for a succinct "key."Now, in hindsight I don't think Dwayanu meant for his design process to result in anything more than a handy key on the map, but his words helped me form the approach for The Dismal Depths, a megadungeon with dungeon level maps, tables and room descriptions entirely on a single page.
It sounded like a brilliant idea. We've all seen plenty of similar maps online or in print, but I hope to offer a megadungeon that requires no more than a few handwritten notes on the part of the referee to dive in and enjoy a full-blown dungeon crawl campaign.
The Dismal Depths will hopefully embody the Empty Room Principle; giving referees more than ample creative opportunity, either beforehand, during a session, or afterwards when restocking or altering the dungeon.
My first steps were creating a list of unique, bare-bones monsters, thus I started everything off with The Dismal Depths Bestiary:
The Dismal Depths BeastiaryYou will notice that many of the new monsters simply replicate the statistics of standard D&D fare. For example, Broodlings = Kobolds, Boglings = Goblins, Mole-Men = Orcs, Morlocks = Hobgoblins, Sleestaks = Gnolls, Brainy Apes = Ogres, etc. The undead, which orignally had names such as Twisdead and Taindead, are simple homebrew alterations of the standard D&D undead. Toss in a few completely new creations, such as the Warped, Wee Ones and Spider-Folk, and a solid collection of new monsters is detailed in but two pages.
Amazons(C): AC 4 Move 9 HD 3+1 Women warriors from an all-female ruled nation. Wield silver headed spears and arrows. Amazons pay Dingo-Men for abducted male babies, all other men are slain or captured for ritual castration. Leader has 4+1 HD.
Boglings(C): AC 6 Move 6 HD 1-1 Small, randomly colored chaos-spawned humanoids. Flesh-eating, utterly evil (aside from the deviant Misfits). Wield crude weapons such as spears, clubs and tomahawks. Mortal enemies of the Wee Ones. Leaders have 3 HD.
Brainy Apes(N): AC 5 Move 9 HD 4+1 Smart, gigantic apes with rust orange fur. Prefer to attack with weapons, dealing +2 damage, but can never find armor that fits. Excellent negotiators but limited in languages. Gold is their greatest motivator.
Broodlings(N): AC 7 Move 6 HD ½ Misshapen, three-foot tall insect-men with ant-like strength. Low intellect, very acute senses. Travel in large packs hunting flesh for the nest. Never surprised, excellent ambushers. Scourge of the depths.
Cadavers(N): AC 8 Move 6 HD 1 Undead. Battle-axe wielding zombies immune to all magic.
Corrupted(C): AC 2 Move 15/30 HD 6 Undead. Vengeful spectres. Howl once per encounter, all in 30 feet save or flee in terror for 2d6 rounds. The character landing the killing blow must save or wither from unnatural aging.
Creepy-Crawlies(N): AC 8 Move 6 HD 2 Clean-up crew. Blanket of massed flesh-eating insects. Targets are treated as AC 9, deals 1 die of damage (1 in 6 chance to be poisonous) to all targets in 20’x20’. Attacks deal but 1 damage to it, but fire deals maximum damage and may deter it.
Desiccated(N): AC 7 Move 6 HD ½ Undead. Sword and shield wielding skeletons which take but 1 damage from most physical blows, blunt weapons deal full damage, and missiles do no damage.
Dingo-Men(C): AC 6 Move 12 HD 3 Cunning lycanthropes given to greed and deception. They are the only males able to interact with Amazons, and often lead unsuspecting men into ambushes. Only struck by silver weapons (not even magic ones, unless silver, effect them).
Fallen(C): AC 2 Move 6 HD 3 Outcast and dishonored, heavily armed and armored former Knights of the Order living in recluse in the Dismal Depths. Plotting to overthrow the Order and take control. Leader has 5+1 HD, his Guards have 4 HD.
Lab Rats(N): AC 7 Move 9 HD 1-1 Giant rabid albino rats with pink eyes, escaped from nefarious laboratories, now breeding throughout the depths. Bites accumulate and cause increasing itching unless save is made. One dozen together form a rudimentary hive mind capable of primitive speech.
Mantis-Men(N): AC 5 Move 9 HD 2+1 Giant, intelligent bipedal Mantises. Mortal enemy of the Spider-Folk. Excellent vision and senses, never surprised. Able to make a lightning-quick long-range lunge for surprise attack with their massive barbed forearms.
Mastiffs(N): AC 5 Move 9 HD 3 Enormous, armored trained war dogs employed as ferocious guards by many inhabitants of the Dismal Depths, often found prowling the halls looking for intruders. Cannot be surprised, able to track and find hidden foes.
Misfits(L): AC 4 Move 6 HD 1+1 Lawful Bogling Knights who protect the sacred Tomb of the Truth. Their kind often roams the depths, seeking to induct other possibly like-minded Boglings into their Misfit Order. Leader has 3 HD, Guards have 2 HD, Trainees are equal to Boglings.
Mole-Men(N-C): AC 6 Move 9 HD 1 Small, darkly furry, bald-headed humanoids. Those hit by Mole-Men glow with a pale phosphorescence for 1 hour, add 1 to hit for attacks upon the glowing character. Wield pick-axes and javelins. Mortal enemies of the Morlocks.
Morlocks(N-C): AC 5 Move 9 HD 1+1 Once tech-advanced time-travelers, now lost devolved species of cannibalistic subterranean men. Covered with pale fur, they are extremely sensitive to bright light. Able to slink silently and track foes. Wield clubs and spears. Favorite dish is pickled Mole-Man.
Pirates(C): AC 5 Move 9 HD 2 Really bad guys; buccaneers, corsairs, cut-throats, salty dogs. Leader has 3 HD.
Rotted(C): AC 6 Move 9 HD 2 Undead. Crazed, drooling man-hunting ghouls which, instead of paralyzing, cause targets to save or become wracked with pain, losing all actions for the rest of that round.
Seeping Ooze(N): AC 8 Move 6 HD 3 Clean-up crew. Mass of oozing purplish gunk which leaves a disgusting trail of goop and is notable for its fetid reek. It erodes metal in one round, and devours flesh thereafter at a rate of 1 die per round. Physical attacks and fire deal but 1 damage.
Skellington(C): AC 3 Move 9 HD 7 Tall, gaunt, brooding King of the Undead in the Dismal Depths. Skellington can never be truly slain by normal means, reforming in 2d6 days once defeated. Skellington’s hits cause soul wrack, save vs. death ray or die.
Sleestaks(C): AC 5 Move 9 HD 2 Tall, green reptilian aliens with bulbous unblinking eyes, pincer hands, and a blunt horn atop head. Wield crossbows, nets and ropes. Fearful of fire. Seek to capture men for alien rituals.
Spider-Folk(C): AC 6 Move 9 HD 2 Highly-intelligent, tall but stooped, long-limbed, gaunt race of arachnid men. Create flame-retardant web-homes, eat nothing but blood and body-fluids, have huge, poisoned fang-filled maws. Sworn enemies of the Mantis-Men.
Tainted(C): AC 3 Move 12/24 HD 4 Undead. Silvery-black wraiths with a chilling attack which treats all targets as AC 9, and causes 2 dice of damage.
Thugs(C): AC 7 Move 12 HD 1 Bad guys; bandits, brigands, rogues, robbers. Leader has 2 HD.
Twisted(C): AC 5 Move 9 HD 3 Undead. Withered wights with a berserk inducing touch. Save or attack random targets for 1d3 rounds.
Warped(C): AC 5 Move 12 HD 3+1 Strange, destructive mutated elf-like fey-kind. Random mutation: super-fast, super-strong, super-tough, super-smart, super-pretty, super-accurate, etc. Seek to collect brains for devious plots to overthrow mankind.
Wee Warriors(N): AC 5 Move 9 HD 2 The fighting Wee One. Diminutive winged fey-kind, greedy, devious, uncaring and opportunistic toward mortals. Heavily armed and armored to the point of non-flight. They wield daggers like swords. Despise Boglings above all others.
Wee Warlord(N): AC 4 Move 9 HD 3 The Wee One Leader. As above. All Warlords wield a Wee Sword (treat as a Dagger, +1 vs. Men, +2 vs. Boglings and Broodlings) which is enchanted with a duration of 1 game session.
Wee Wizards(N): AC 7 Move 12/24 HD 2 The spell-casting Wee One. As above. Typical spells include Sleep, Charm, Invisibility, ESP and Knock. Wee Wizards will have 1d4-1 spells at their disposal when encountered. Will use flight to avoid melee if possible.
Whisper-Wind(N): AC - Move -/6 HD 2 Clean-up crew. Large misty, damp mass of shimmering mystical air, up to 30’x10’ in size. It dissolves all flesh, bone and metal which it envelops at a rate of 1 die per round. Immune to physical attacks, spells or flaming oil will damage it.
Next, I designed Level 1A, The Tunnels of the Mole-Men. A 30 square x 30 square map which encompasses the north-west corner of Level 1:
This was then scanned and cropped after filling the map in greater detail:
The rest of my time has been spent working with scanning, Photo-shop, and Word. I cropped, pasted, and played with all the various Word settings to produce this first draft version of Level 1A:
While I haven't typed in the Room Key just yet, the end result will be something limited to what I can type on a single line, maybe like so:
3-The Laughing Idol. Four shafts with ladders leading down. Mole-Men (7), Silver (300), Gold (50).With just simple text, a referee could invent details on the fly, and still have the basic text for future use in order to jog his memory on how he handled the room in the past.
My immediate plan is to complete four maps for Levels 1-3, resulting in a dozen such maps. If I am happy with the finished product, I will expand the Bestiary, and continue with Levels 4-6, 6-9 and 10.
So, in case you're wondering, posting continues at a slow pace as I learn the ins and outs of making a dungeon in this manner. I'm still not entirely satisfied with the scan results, perhaps I need a better scanner, but considering the draft version is a scan of a scan that was emailed (the scanner is on my Wife's computer), it's not half bad.
I'll come up for air after I finish Level 1. The really cool thing about this type of dungeon is how I can share it here in its entirety. Hopefully The Dismal Depths will provide some entertainment for my readers who are willing to take on a referee style which begs for on the spot creativity.
Lastly, I want to add "Zulgyan's Hit Point Method", found here, somewhere in the Bestiary. If you're not familiar with it, go read that tidbit of genius.
Oh, and Happy Holidays! I Wish everyone a safe and entertaining New Year's Eve.
~Sham, Quixotic Referee