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12 February 2015 @ 12:50 pm
Warlords of the Megadungeon Kingdom  
I haven't posted about RPG stuff in a bit. I think it's because I've been consumed by making a unified Dragon-Blooded Charm index for Exalted, with all the errata and fan-Charms I like in one place, in anticipation of that Ollantijaya game I mentioned a while back. But of course that's not the only thing on my mind, and it's time to write about Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom again!

One of the main game premises I thought of when I started designing the setting was a megadungeon game. I know that most megadungeon games are OSR ones, or at least d20-based, but reading the GURPS blog Dungeon Fantastic and the Felltower game the author is running (first session here) has given me a lot of inspiration for how a completely different game can do a proper dungeon. The main aspects that are needed are:
  • An interesting megadungeon. I already have Etemenanki, the miles-high tower based on the Tower in Sky Land from SMB3, written into the setting, and a bunch of underground ruins filled with treasure and traps everywhere. With the dimensions I'm imagining, it's several hundred billion cubic feet of space within, and even a long tradition of exploration and actual communities around and in Etemenanki, there's still plenty of room for a series of adventures in there.

  • A wide variety of loot. Exalted has this covered, with all the artifacts in various books and the hearthstones that I've repurposed as crystals. No problems here at all.

  • A reward system to encourage exploration and looting. Basing XP on value of goods recovered--the old XP-for-gold rule--is the venerable and probably best rule, but it does run into the problem that unlike D20 games or GURPS, most of the magical items in Exalted don't have monetary value except in the abstract, so I'd have to assign everthing. Unless I just did "XP equal to Artifact or half Manse Background value" and then made sure that mundane treasure and goods had a reasonable scale. This would require some tweaking.

  • Competing factions. If everything is unendingly hostile and the only interaction the PCs can take with it is to sword it in the hit pointsHealth Levels, then they might as well leave and go play Ancient Domains of Mystery or Angband or something, which will do dungeon exploring and loot-gathering to a far greater degree of nit-picking detail than a tabletop game ever could. But if the PCs can work together with a party of kappa sent by their tribal shaman to retrieve a relic, or hear a rumor that a group of pidgit-folk have descended from their Cloud Kingdom citadel to clear out the same abandoned shrine that they were planning to go to, or find a group of dossun blocking off a passage and manage to parley with them into letting them pass, or pay a group of Disciples of the Empyrean to transport them to a balcony on a higher level of Etemenanki that they know is unexplored, that all leads to much more interesting stories than just murdering everything does. A megadungeon has to feel like a place where different groups live and interact, not just a collection of rooms where orcs are 30 feet from gnolls but they never acknowledge each other's existence.

    Unlike the ones above, there's nothing specific in Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom to facilitate or hinder this. It's just a very important part of design to keep in mind.

  • Dungeon as location for adventures. "Explore the next level" can be a motivation, but it doesn't have to and shouldn't be the only one. Let others evolve out of faction interactions. Maybe there's a plague in town and there's a pool inside that has healing waters, and now the PCs not only need to get there, they need to transport a barrel of water safely back. Maybe someone wants a particular room or section cleared out because they want to build a community there. Maybe the pidgit-folk take over that section after exploring and they won't let the PCs through unless they bring them a Disciple of the Empyrean, who they claim stole mystical secrets from them and is using them profanely. Make sure there are plenty of opportunities for more goals to arise.
Part of me wants to include rules mechanics as a necessary part of the experience, but it's clearly not, since the first megadungeons were run with OD&D which barely has any rules at all, much less the kind of attempting-to-be-comprehensive system that d20 or Exalted have. It does require players who are onboard with the core concepts, though. Once I finish that Dragon-Blooded Charm collection and go back to finishing the WotMK bestiary, maybe I'll start looking in to that.
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