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aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Recently this year I have been spending time designing a megadungeon for personal use and no profit. I have found it to be a pretty interesting design exercise which grows the more I run it, and I have found putting pretty much everything I like into it has allowed for some interesting results as two (and soonish, three) groups of players begin to plumb the depths.

Some highlights of making an "Everything" megadungeon:

Not worrying about creative constraints means I can take anything as-is and put it into the dungeon. I have found that using things from games like Monster Hunter and other action hunting games to be interesting and fun.

Creating systems that drive inspiration for me procedurally means I don't have to deal with "tabula rasa" syndrome where not knowing what to do next means I do nothing. Instead, randomly generated quests (of which I created a system to do so quickly and easily) determine the "where", which I can then riff off of.

I can take advantage of bursts of energy and inspiration when I have no other available creative outlet. I have no goals for myself for this project so whenever I come up with ideas that seem cool to me I can put them into the game system as components, or just come up with a list of one hundred names for zones and no other setting information for it yet, and then start roughing out the skeleton and details in greater detail.

As a result of embracing the "Everything" from a creative perspective, I've managed to put a name to 100 levels of a megadungeon, the world, and the adventuring therein, and go for pages and pages about these things, both from an in-character design and a system design perspective.

This thread serves as a mostly positive love letter to this maximalist approach to designing things free of the constraints of an industry or creative detractors, and a celebration of people who are designing for the sake of design. Have you ever seen a game that has something so deeply odd that you go "What was the designer thinking of when they made this system?" Or, a system that seemed like it would be better if only it had a few tweaks, but no game to run it in? This is a place to opine about these kinds of things.

To start in terms of discussion, I think many folks might see hacking together many different concepts together and remixing them to make a personalized whole means that they have to create everything from scratch. This includes trying to create different words for the same thing like "Dungeon Master", "Game Master", "Narrator", "Judge" and so on to describe the person who runs a game. Having to make an intentional decision like this for every piece of common game design trait is cumbersome, but may be a necessity if you plan on releasing to market. Dungeon Master, for example, is an exclusive term and part of Dungeons and Dragons.

Designing something for fun and not for profit means that I can just use whatever terms work for me from whatever intellectual property works for me. It cannot be overstated how useful of a design exercise something like this is, and what better way to do than by making a 100 level megadungeon?

In the coming posts I will ruminate on these things and how these subsystems pop up in my head and where these inspirations come from as a stream of consciousness, but also to invite and encourage people to talk about their small or big weird things that they're working on. I suspect that people who read all of this and didn't have their eyes glaze over yet from the wordiness to be the kind of person who has such a project or has been thinking about such a project.

For everybody else, here is a picture of a dog.

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aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

I would suppose that the first question would be: what project is the one being worked on?

Enter the Megastrata, a megadungeon whose major design goal is to be a 100-plus level constantly refreshing environment for extended and iterative play. Here's a link to the player-facing documentation.

After looking through D&D 5e's "Dead in Thay" and several other megadungeons in other systems, I came to the conclusion that megadungeons are great because they are like the secret sausage of the person who makes it: it is their representation of all the stuff that they like that has been lovingly prepared and shared out with the world as a thing that they had a good time doing. I would imagine that anybody who designed a megadungeon with the intent of it being a soulless meatgrinder of a product would leave a questionable taste.

As a result, I also found that pretty much all of those megadungeons were not my bag. They were someone else's idea of one of the ultimate design projects one can embark on, but also, they designed it as a commercial product (or it was later converted to one). None of them featured things that I wanted (or thought I wanted) in total, so it was always a bit of a compromise.

Why not make my own then, and why not use a nice impressive number that makes other people question the sanity of the designer?

One hundred levels was an arbitrary number, but also it's a bit misleading. Yes, there are one hundred levels that have names to them, but there are more levels and non-levels to explore. Some people also think that designing those levels requires exhaustively mapping and keying encounters for every level before play can begin, to which I disagreed.

I began by first defining the levels and how they would loosely connect and determined a major theme - the "Zero Theme" - for each group of ten levels. From there, I could create logical extensions of that theme by creating different sub-themes that informed the locations, and kept the amount of words used to title each level as something evocative, yet simple. If I needed to go back to change something, I could, since I didn't have a specific timetable. I just created, and kept doing so until I was out of ideas. Then, a day or a week later, I'd go back and add more to it until I had the "core 100".

The framework was done in Google Drawings because it's easy to make uniform boxes and coloration. Thus, we get this diagram:



Sometimes it doesn't really matter how long something takes but if you can create logical extensions then it will end up producing interesting results that can be further extended later.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

I would say if someone wanted to create a megadungeon in this fashion or needs inspiration on how to create a big thing, then use randomness as the inspiration bed and then curate from there. Use a random place name generator or a random theme generator and then just generate 10, 50, 100, 1000 names. Pick ones that resonate with you and then put them onto something that you can move around - index cards, bits of paper you cut up, a drawing service like Google Drawings, or whatever. See what patterns naturally form as you begin moving things around and start grouping things by a certain theme.

You could theoretically do this for any kind of brainstorming activity, I think, but maybe the idea of a hundred levels of a megadungeon sounds cool to you or extremely stupid, I dunno. Maybe you can use it to make a kingdom and exotic places inside and outside of it, or weird street names.

I ended up doing a similar thing with a list of fake MMORPG guild names because I thought it would be both funny and useful for another game - technically, the list is useful for megadungeons too as rival delving companies!

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

On the topic of a megadungeon, what is "complete", anyway? I think when you're looking at a megadungeon you're looking at a living series of documents that will change the more you use it, like some kind of co-operative slime mold that will occasionally bite you but is otherwise chill and also larger than your house.

I think that when you embark on "creating for the sake of creating", it's important to understand what you get out of it. Do you get immense satisfaction out of a finished product, or is the thing you are creating something that will never be finished? Does it need to be, for you to feel validated? In the case of the Megastrata, it does not. I am creating system after system to put into the framework that does things I like doing in a similar fashion to how a video game like Dwarf Fortress just keeps on trucking along with some sort of destination that has huge, massive diversions along the way. However, I don't think that such a game would ever be considered "finished".

I did want to get the Megastrata to be "playable enough", and to this I pretty much just took all of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 21: Megadungeons and just rewrote it from the perspective of this specific megadungeon that I was working on. Is that plagiarism or some other idea theft? If it is, who is going to judge me on such an effort? Because this is something that I don't need to be validated on (the work in and of itself validates it to me in absence of profit or other design goals), I can just say "yeah that's good enough".

At the earliest stages even before the actual name scoping, I had an older game concept that was basically Record of Lodoss War with the serial numbers filed off (which in and of itself was D&D with the serial numbers turned into huge anime elf ears). From that game that never fully got off the ground I created a campaign document as if I was going to run that game, though I had no players to populate the campaign with, and then off to the designing lab I went.

If it comes down to answering the question: "why design such a thing at all, to put so much work into a thing that will make no money, never be finished, and also shamelessly steal, recycle, and mangle ideas from published commercial content?" In other words, "what's the point?"

The point is, I felt like designing such a thing because I wanted to. There's not much more to it than that!

I also realize that this is TRIPLE POSTING so I am going to go do something else for awhile and maybe return to this later this evening or in the next few days.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'



In designing a megadungeon, it is useful to understand what your palette is to begin with and maybe some inspirations. What surfaces to mind when thinking about the concept of the megadungeon?

For me, it was two key words: "systems", and "aesthetics". A megadungeon by its definition is big, and has a lot of things that are supposed to work together to provide a very specific kind of experience.

About Systems

Embarking on the quest to define 100 levels at once in their entirety would be a very heavyweight task, but making 100 ideas is not so bad. Even 5 or 10 levels at a time would be difficult to scope and design if approached from what other people might think about with a megadungeon, which are usually big maps with lots of tricks and things about it.

What made sense to me was to design a megadungeon like someone does when they're scoping and creating a basic roguelike, which is, turning to procedural generation for inspiration. I have used Dwarf Fortress in other games as usage for map design and terrain layout, and I have dabbled with creating things in Python to make a random dungeon, plus I've designed more than my fair share of dungeons via the 1e AD&D random dungeons and played in more than one (to completion, even!) growing up.

Megadungeons conceptually to me is the act of interacting and discovering something through complex procedural generation. There may be very simple rules which govern them, but when put together in layer upon layer, you get a complex, wondrous thing. I recommend checking out How to Host A Dungeon for a lightweight version of this.

So, in order for me to actually approach this large task, my thoughts turned to creating systems that would flesh out the megadungeon and guide me as I went. All of these systems went into the Megastrata Gazeteer linked elsewhere.

One of the other things that are not expressly megadungeon related but are still part of the things I like about them is that there are systems that reveal themselves to players and rewards them for mastery, novel thinking, and so on. So, I wanted to also create systems which allow for player expression and investment that drives them back into the gameplay loops.

On Aesthetics

Megadungeons and older fantasy in general had minimal distinction between "pure fantasy" and "science fiction". Magic very often was a stand in for technological marvels, or vice versa, and having some kind of ordering of things which made sense in the game world was key to make the megadungeon feel like it was itself an entity that should not be trifled with. Part of the design then should inform players that this is a place that is huge, ever changing, and likely will never be fully explored. Mystery lurks in every corner, and sometimes, those can be fatal.

I have a specific kind of weirdness that I trend towards which is a mix of this blend of fantasy, science fiction, anime, and all the stuff in between. I had to figure out a way to make it somewhat cohesive in order to make this work in the way I wanted.

Enter GURPS: the Generic Universal Role Playing System.

I very thoroughly enjoyed old campaigns that were run by goons on SA that focused on GURPS and Dungeon Fantasy specifically, because it had a very specific kind of aesthetic: there was an order to the world, it was not purely arbitrary, and this meant that it could be interacted with in ways that produced interesting and exciting ways. It was familiar ground for me that had a lot of latitude and was very detail oriented, which tickled my fancy as well. One need not look further for many small systems that combined together become complex things, but are (usually) elegant in design.

I could have used another rules system to fit this aesthetic that I was looking for, or even gone so far as to make my own or eschew a role playing system entirely; however, with what GURPS had to offer, this gave me the structure to deliver on this kind of aesthetic that I wanted for the megadungeon.

I summarize the aesthetic as two concepts: "Discovery of the hidden logic of the world", and "maximal fantastic weirdness".

As players interact with the setting and find interesting things to interact with, they uncover more mysteries, some of which might be very big indeed. This may also cause a fundamental shift in what rules are being used, depending on my fancy, but it will be a shared discovery when we get to that point.

Maximal fantastic weirdness comes from trying to shoehorn the "everything" mentioned elsewhere into the megadungeon. Will I be able to fit in giant fantasy robots like Vision of Escaflowne or Aura Battler Dunbine into a system that focuses more specifically on determining whether or not you have enough lift to carry 75 pounds of jaguar pelts home?

Maybe!

From this kind of aesthetic I found inspiration from anime and other media that I consumed. The "home base" to the megadungeon would be similar to the series DanMachi, and the idea of gods walking the earth because heaven was too boring was one I wanted to also go ahead and mess around with. The megadungeon being a massive hole in the ground came from Made in Abyss. An ever-changing nature of the dungeon came from things like BLAME!, Meikyuu Kingdom (sighhhh) and other such works.

Usually I will let my brain lead me around when it starts jumping from one idea to the next on these kinds of affairs. That's how, while I have a 45-plus hour a week full time job and run games almost every day and night of the week for another 27-plus hours, I was still able to, somehow, write 50 pages in a month of systems and aesthetic design (inclusive of setting).

The Oldest Man
Jul 28, 2003



I've had fun slaying monsters in this dungeon

Leperflesh
May 17, 2007






I have never done or even tried to do something like putting together a megadungeon. I suppose part of the deal for me, is that I immediately start asking questions like how to place this extremely implausible construction into a world that will make it seem plausible to the players, with the standard answer ("a wizard did it") being unsatisfactory to me. But, thinking about it, I think you're not doing something wildly different from "worldbuilding", just that your world consists of levels and indoor (or "indoor") spaces, while the cube-shaped planet project I've had on the back burner for 20 years has a different arrangement of pieces.

What I am getting at is that if you want a setting that is thematically like-a-megadungeon, in that it has regions that are wildly different from one another, a formal/constrained connectivity, and a game theme oriented towards formalized exploration (your map has dungeon guild markers), approaches like those you're describing here are perhaps applicable.


Which maybe leads me to a broader question. Why a megadungeon, instead of just a world - or a universe? What, to you, is the distinction?

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

The Oldest Man posted:

I've had fun slaying monsters in this dungeon

Having weird and interesting monsters to fight that use somewhat flexible stat blocks is pretty good, so I'm glad you like it! The rest of the groups seem a bit grumbly at how powerful these monsters are. I liken it to getting a rude awakening when playing a game like Dark Souls for the first time, where you get whomped on. Some people adapt very quickly to this (more seasoned GURPS players know what's up).

There is one primary system which enable putting in tough and challenging monsters: the ETUDES system. This in-character system enables 'free' resurrections at a time penalty; and also allows for parties to escape the dungeon using a similar mechanic to Word of Recall, Nexial Ring, whatever the Dark Souls equivalent of "go home at some sort of penalty but in an emergency" was. It also will teleport characters out of the dungeon and put them into a stasis pod if their player cannot make it, which answers the age old and highly annoying question of "well, I wasn't here, but was my character here? Can someone fill me in?" the answer then becomes "your character knows what you know, so good luck trying to have the party explain the situation to you while you're dangling over molten lava".

Being able to have a safeguard in place allows for monsters to remain as tough as they are without major adjustments. There are some monsters that are somewhat cumbersome (Draugr and other undead, for example, would normally take something like 6x their max HP to kill unless they were purified) but there's quite a bit of flexibility there.

This is a good segue into another part of the Aesthetics discussion.

Megadungeons and Challenge

In general, what do people consider to be a great adventure in an RPG sense?

Tabletop RPGs tend to angle towards a sense of wonder and discovery but don't have some kind of permanent fun-removing way that removes active participants from the game world. Previously in older games, there was outright character removal (I'm thinking older editions of D&D before you hit around 10th level at this point) which represents a lot of time and effort lost with that character. However, something needs to happen in order to have some sort of "true challenge" to make an adventure feel like an adventure rather than a light romp through a field of battle.

When it comes to megadungeons, the conceit of their design is that they can be many things to many people, and also must have enough and changing challenges to put player and character skill to the test. To file the edge off of this I adjusted the challenge a bit by making the penalty for failing it meaningful, but less permanent. This is an explicit decision with systems to back it up because it means there can be big challenges that cause the kinds of hard decisions you need to make but after the challenge is over you can most likely try it again if you failed with new knowledge. Gloomhaven was pretty good about this balance at lower power levels but kind of gets hung up on it at the high end. I don't know how that's going to go for this game specifically, but we'll see!

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Leperflesh posted:

Which maybe leads me to a broader question. Why a megadungeon, instead of just a world - or a universe? What, to you, is the distinction?

Megadungeons are microcosms of the world they represent so functionally they could be treated as their own world or universe. However, for me a megadungeon is useful to communicate to players because there are three things that most people intrinsically come to understand:

1. All the fun is in the megadungeon. Nothing interesting happens in town, and the places anywhere that aren't the megadungeon are mostly loose set dressing in case you want to come from somewhere else. This is predominantly a "systems" thing. You could make stuff outside of the megadungeon but those are purely diversions and frippery. The megadungeon is the party place for party people in the house tonight.

2. Megadungeons are still dungeons. Thus, you present a specific context for characters to explore and procedurally leverage their strengths and weaknesses. When crafting characters for said megadungeon, it precludes things like exclusively social characters or characters who are not effective in combat or adventuring. This is also informed by GURPS Dungeon Fantasy since the templates give you a firm baseline competency for each character. This fits the "aesthetics" and "systems" both.

3. Megadungeons are also inherently ridiculous. Because they aren't just places in the world that naturally occur in the way that most people consider a megadungeon, there is a sense of expectation subversion that suggests and also demands experimentation. You can very easily go along with the flow in the rest of the game world, a story narrative where it's a pure railroad, or whatever; megadungeons put this ridiculousness at the front and center as something to call players to action.

aldantefax fucked around with this message at 23:05 on Nov 24, 2020

The Oldest Man
Jul 28, 2003



Leperflesh posted:

Which maybe leads me to a broader question. Why a megadungeon, instead of just a world - or a universe? What, to you, is the distinction?

When I did one, it was because I explicitly wanted something alien and implausible and weird as a wrap-around setting. I took a lot of inspiration from Blame!, Biomega, the Matrix, and Blade Runner and put a fantasy/Spelljammer-y lens on those ideas, so my megadungeon was the result of world-building magic that ran out of control and filled the entire Celestial Sphere with a dungeon. Hundreds of thousands of dungeon levels, giant chasms where eons of decay and tidal forces split rifts in the structure, and whole cultures rising and falling inside. I wanted to run a campaign in which the entire world had a nonsense ecology/economy and was in an unsustainable decay state, and megadungeons are a good fit for that kind of thing.

aldantefax posted:

3. Megadungeons are also inherently ridiculous. Because they aren't just places in the world that naturally occur in the way that most people consider a megadungeon, there is a sense of expectation subversion that suggests and also demands experimentation. You can very easily go along with the flow in the rest of the game world, a story narrative where it's a pure railroad, or whatever; megadungeons put this ridiculousness at the front and center as something to call players to action.

Yeah, this. You have to want the setting to not make sense or be unreal in some way for a megadungeon to "work" because they take all the weird edges from regular-scale dungeons (like, what's this orc's motivation to guard this chest? what does this dragon eat? etc.) and puts them front and center.

The Oldest Man fucked around with this message at 18:27 on Nov 24, 2020

Leperflesh
May 17, 2007






Fair enough, and so I could in theory use similar cues if I wanted a bizarro-world explicitly strange around every corner with no expectation of "realistic" geography, but with a big outdoorsy feel to it.

mellonbread
Dec 20, 2017


Leperflesh posted:

Why a megadungeon, instead of just a world - or a universe?
My hundred percent honest answer is "because I don't like wilderness travel". As both a player and a DM, I find exploration more interesting when it's through a series of well defined and architecturally distinct rooms, rather than nebulous "forest hexes" that all feel the same. I'd rather have five interesting things all in one big dungeon, rather than five separate dungeons that require a day to move between (with commensurate ticking off of rations, potential random encounters with bandits and other filler). Unless those five dungeons are somehow secretly linked, in which case it's basically a megadungeon anyway.

LeSquide
Nov 1, 2012

Eat.
At.
Ed'sTM.



I haven't run a megadungeon or adjacent spaces in a while (like a big ol' derelict spacecraft or whatnot), but the notion of having a regular world "outside" or apart from the megastructure can be very important for some games. If characters can withdraw to it, it represents a source of safety and relief, and if they can't, accessing it is often at least a side goal.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

LeSquide posted:

I haven't run a megadungeon or adjacent spaces in a while (like a big ol' derelict spacecraft or whatnot), but the notion of having a regular world "outside" or apart from the megastructure can be very important for some games. If characters can withdraw to it, it represents a source of safety and relief, and if they can't, accessing it is often at least a side goal.

The town itself in my setting is a large city that has its own things going on but has very silly services that support delvers like an MMORPG. I did loosely define the world outside and made two maps for it - a horizontal map, and a vertical map.




For me, this is "enough detail" to keep moving forward. Another thing is just to assemble a visual library of the kinds of stuff.

There are many ways to generate the outside world, but if you describe it in very broad terms then that is honestly quite enough if the focus of megadungeons are - megadungeons themselves. If it's just 'one place' in the world, then that is just a really big dungeon. At least with my design, this was 'the place' to be.

Characters can indeed return to town at any time for a full heal at the cost of game time. This might mean they also have to abandon quests and other opportunities, but that's very specifically a choice they make on their terms if they find themselves in hot water. This is definitely a world where things can go either way, and if the characters eat it...well, it's a free trip back to town for them!

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

mellonbread posted:

My hundred percent honest answer is "because I don't like wilderness travel". As both a player and a DM, I find exploration more interesting when it's through a series of well defined and architecturally distinct rooms, rather than nebulous "forest hexes" that all feel the same. I'd rather have five interesting things all in one big dungeon, rather than five separate dungeons that require a day to move between (with commensurate ticking off of rations, potential random encounters with bandits and other filler). Unless those five dungeons are somehow secretly linked, in which case it's basically a megadungeon anyway.

The way I have handled traveling is to use a series of abstraction rolls to determine if a journey is difficult, easy, or somewhere in between, as well as determining dungeon tension and pathing. I've also created systems for myself to determine how dungeon routing can happen and where the entrance is to a given zone of a dungeon and use a "zone crawl" aspect rather than a "hex crawl". This allows for some freedom and latitude and lets me use things like Index Card RPG symbols or other pictures without worrying about finding a correctly sized tactical map for everywhere, only when you're about to get into the dirty business of All Out Attacks.

You touch on an interesting point about "same-ness" which leads to "boring things". I think that having boring things is actually really key to making a megadungeon work because if you have something that's wholly removed from reality then players don't trust in their senses nor their abilities to get the job done. They should have competent delvers that have been around the block, so the feeling of helplessness or uncomfortable unfamiliarity needs to have some kind of procedural and narrative gap, perfect for the boring stuff to fit in.

In the Megastrata specifically there is the concept of being able to descend to pretty much any level you want using a series of rope elevators that are crewed by odd robots. For reasons I won't get into here, this is one of the "boring" things but also have their own hidden logic of which robot does what job, but the crews playing in that game space have not yet questioned it. They just think that it's another weird but benign thing. Well, maybe not TheOldestMan because he's playing in the game and he's definitely reading this. Heh heh heh.

Whybird
Aug 2, 2009

Phaiston have long avoided the tightly competetive defence sector, but the IRDA Act 2052 has given us the freedom we need to bring out something really special.

https://team-robostar.itch.io/robostar




Nap Ghost

mellonbread posted:

As both a player and a DM, I find exploration more interesting when it's through a series of well defined and architecturally distinct rooms, rather than nebulous "forest hexes" that all feel the same.

Maybe the answer is to make the hexes more interesting, then? Seems to me you're comparing a well-designed, interesting dungeon to a boring and lazily-designed hexcrawl.

mellonbread
Dec 20, 2017


Whybird posted:

Maybe the answer is to make the hexes more interesting, then? Seems to me you're comparing a well-designed, interesting dungeon to a boring and lazily-designed hexcrawl.
I'm comparing something that interests me to something that interests me less. Yes, I could put more work into the things I'm not excited about, but that effort could just as easily be spent developing something I like better.

aldantefax posted:

You touch on an interesting point about "same-ness" which leads to "boring things". I think that having boring things is actually really key to making a megadungeon work because if you have something that's wholly removed from reality then players don't trust in their senses nor their abilities to get the job done. They should have competent delvers that have been around the block, so the feeling of helplessness or uncomfortable unfamiliarity needs to have some kind of procedural and narrative gap, perfect for the boring stuff to fit in.
This is something I've been going back and forth on for years - whether it's necessary to depict the more mundane aspects of adventuring in order to give context and contrast to the exciting stuff, or whether you can just hit the "high points" and let the other stuff happen offscreen. It's like empty rooms in a dungeon - they seem pointless at first, but they offer a reprieve from monsters and traps, much needed tactical diversity when choosing how to move through the dungeon, a place to retreat to, etc.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Whybird posted:

Maybe the answer is to make the hexes more interesting, then? Seems to me you're comparing a well-designed, interesting dungeon to a boring and lazily-designed hexcrawl.

Different strokes for different folks, I imagine. Not everybody wants to have a procedural long distance overland journey where you need to leverage skills and stuff to just travel to the part of the game where you have fun. If the fun is dungeon or whatnot, then you could always just exclaim "Forty days and forty nights!" like GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 2 says and be done with it.

Wilderness exploration and survival is an interesting topic but I prefer to bundle it into discrete encounters that can be done inside of a megadungeon. For example, there was a group that had to travel through multiple zones in order to get to a quest destination. That took some time to do and was for most intents and purposes a 'wilderness' jaunt until they got to the place they were going, but it was kept fairly minimal and breezy and gave them some interesting and goofy choices to make which involved abandoned towns and mystery whispers, that kind of thing.

Part of using wilderness travel, or rather, travel as a vehicle for fun delivery (pun intended) comes down to what you want to represent from the travel. The One Ring, as I understand it, is all about the journey rather than the procedural stuff when you get to the destination, as are other games like Ryuutama (which I'll actually play with people some day, maybe).

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Leperflesh posted:

I have never done or even tried to do something like putting together a megadungeon. I suppose part of the deal for me, is that I immediately start asking questions like how to place this extremely implausible construction into a world that will make it seem plausible to the players...

I want to return to this because I think it's an interesting logic trap for erstwhile designers to over and/or underdesign things in a need to satisfy a certain level of "fantasy reality" to make things work. What I found worked best for me. Then again, if I wanted to go in deep about a setting, there's not much that's stopping me for something like a megadungeon, but the important part is to create the framework in which this is conducive.

In effect, the megadungeon is there and the world supports it for me. I take a gigantic paintbrush and then do extremely broad strokes to lay out the background with evocative words that sound "out there". What goes on in the Unconquerable East? I dunno (well, I kind of do) but definitely no conquering, at least, not anymore! It's Unconquerable!

When you talk about plausibility in a fantasy game world, especially one that is focused around plumbing the depths of a dungeon or some such, there is always some amount of buffoonery you need to put into a setting, I feel like, because "adventurer" and "hero" are historically accurate professions, and ruin explorers looking for traps and orcs and magic are most certainly not.

Anyway, creating a completely different reality will almost always have reference points that are either implied or not to what you perceive as real in the world around you, even if you're Lord British. I mostly just took all the bits that seemed plausible enough to put in front of players and myself, and that has worked well so far. There's nothing wrong with going "it's like that one anime/book series/movie, but cooler" if you're only designing for yourself.

One of the players in Matt Colville's broadcasted game "The Chain" has a similar type of thing where he's very detail-oriented and wants to know how things survive in these places. What do things eat? How do they avoid being eaten? And so on. I think picking at interesting details and evolving a thing from there be it a megadungeon or not can have interesting results.

Similarly, this doesn't have to be strictly about RPG design or the written word. You can make doodles or sound ideas or whatever that will never see the light of day, but maybe will inform your future decisions when you're running a game or playing in one. It's a skill that requires some training and flexing before it stops being awkward, but is totally worth practicing for someone interested in creative design.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

mellonbread posted:

I'm comparing something that interests me to something that interests me less. Yes, I could put more work into the things I'm not excited about, but that effort could just as easily be spent developing something I like better.
This is something I've been going back and forth on for years - whether it's necessary to depict the more mundane aspects of adventuring in order to give context and contrast to the exciting stuff, or whether you can just hit the "high points" and let the other stuff happen offscreen. It's like empty rooms in a dungeon - they seem pointless at first, but they offer a reprieve from monsters and traps, much needed tactical diversity when choosing how to move through the dungeon, a place to retreat to, etc.

Energy expenditure is hugely important because at the end of the real world day you only have so much time and physical/mental limitations to the amount that you can create, and if you are trying to get something ready to play for that week or that evening then the amount of energy you expend to design something that is not quite so fun for you will never feel quite the same as if you made something that you had fun with.

I think it all depends on what kind of game you're shooting for when you're trying to determine if the boring things should be there or not. For a megadungeon, being able to determine a certain level of desperation has fueled one group, and expectation subversion has fueled another group in terms of discovery and curiosity.

For some games it may just be all action all the time (the LANCER RPG group I run is almost purely mech combat and a more tenuous plot than Doom has). For others in a more organic type of space you can consider the cross between mundane and fantastic to be an interesting textural difference.

If I take a page out of food stuffs, consider if you just had french fries all the time for 52 weeks. French fries are delicious and crunchy and fluffy and all around just enjoyable things to eat, but if it is all that you eat, then you are gonna probably not gonna feel so hot after awhile. Sometimes you want a salad or a shake or something to mix things up, or maybe fries from a different place. Maybe the chicken nuggest. Ya feel?

I think if you are exploring the megadungeon as in and of itself a drama, the best dramas have a concept of rising tension and release. Hamlet's Hit Points is a fantastic book that gives this narrative concept. If the narrative is also tied into the procedural nature of a game, then this means it's okay to have people make these kinds of mundane checks because there's something intrinsically funny to think about how you packed your backpack before riding the robot elevator down to the zone full of lava zombies or whatever.

mellonbread
Dec 20, 2017


How does character advancement work in your game? I read the setting bible (which was pretty cool, and evoked a lot of the stuff I like about DCSS) and couldn't figure out how Delvers mechanically increase their "level" and earn the right to go into the lower areas.

In my experience, "how do I get XP" is the primary driving force in what players choose to do when exploring a map, be it a hexcrawl or a dungeon.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

If you showed up and played, 1 point.
If you looted something of value, 1 point or more depending on value (there is a minimum threshold)
If the group agrees on awesome thing happening, 1 point.
If the group reached a new zone or discovered a new thing of importance, 1 point or more.

Generally this means players can invest the points in town on themselves or they can invest in mysteries which are like shared meta progression as an investment for big rewards later. This is a custom subsystem inspired primarily by Legends of the Wulin and Weapons of the Gods by creating interesting lore points for people to use. Many other systems have eschewed some kind of incremental progress in favor of major milestones but this one does not, and awards are generally documented in the specific system (in this case, GURPS DF2 and 21). If I ran this in a different system then there would be a different award structure but the idea is otherwise the same.

Getting to the lower areas requires expressing interest in doing that and finding it out. Since this is a living document and it reflects a majority of what players know about the game world, they haven't approached this topic yet, and as such, there is nothing there formed up fully yet. However, it is a "License"-based system, so they need authorization and proof that they're not going to be a liability going down there.

aldantefax fucked around with this message at 01:38 on Nov 25, 2020

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

mellonbread posted:

In my experience, "how do I get XP" is the primary driving force in what players choose to do when exploring a map, be it a hexcrawl or a dungeon.

Player motivation is an interesting one. A session zero that was mostly in-character (but there is a tenuous thing where the line is rather blurry) set things up and gave players something to worry about. Namely, they begin in danger of their company defaulting on some loans that they're on the hook for. Failure to make up the difference means they have their adventuring licenses revoked and they are doomed to paying off the loans in town without any hope of resurrection or assistance. This puts a rather mundane goal of "getting out of debt" in front of the players, and how they ought to do it is "go into the megadungeon". I also set a time limit for them on how long they had before this was due, and generated a variety of random quests for them to pick and choose from, which they rapidly found were more dangerous than it seemed on paper.

This meant that a seemingly innocuous quest to gather exotic materials for one group caused them to nearly die, and in fact they returned to town before going back in, which meant that they recovered but lost some time (and the quest itself had not a lot of time to complete at all). High risk, reasonable reward.

No one player has a specific 'goal' to wrap up their careers for their characters at the moment but with the amount of other stuff currently in the game, they have their hands full with a very clear and present urgent thing in order to get some breathing room. If and when they eventually overcome this hurdle, they will likely have new things to deal with, to which another group of players has already somewhat accidentally become astrally marked servitors of a Mummy Lord after opening a box that had a black hole in it. So, they also now have some goals too, but maybe they will go do something else.

The idea that the setting's conceit is "the Megastrata is there, and you are delvers, thus, you must delve" is enough of an impetus to get players out there and the rest is just following the fiction. This way it also means that the game is self-sustaining for those players, because they are now developing their own motivations through play.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

I should probably go a little bit into the feedback loop that is actually causing players to get real excited in the current games, which is to talk about "Mysteries".

Mysteries = Loresheets = Player-driven things to invest in

I mentioned before that "Mysteries" are a custom subsystem which was originally inspired from one of my personal favorite games, Weapons of the Gods as well as Legends of the Wulin. Both of them presented a concept where the game was developed by awarded experience points (in the form of 'Destiny') to players to spend on what they found interesting and cool about the system from a narrative aspect. This could be almost anything in the book since many headings including mechanical system topics had a Destiny cost associated with them, representing not just the character's knowledge, but the player's meta-knowledge and interest in the subject. They could also spend their Destiny on Entanglements, which were players raising a narrative flag that said "I want this to be part of the game".

This had some upside and downsides, namely, most players in a dungeon crawl will just raise a flag to say "I want every benefit to be part of the game and none of the drawbacks", which is fair and by design, but also not directly appropriate for what I was envisioning.

Instead, after multiple years and many gaming groups of experimentation, I landed on this thematic system by using keywords that made sense:

1. Mysteries. As in, there are multiple, and they are big ones, some of which may go unsolved. This represents a large bucket of point investment, but is not a black hole - players investing into these can effectively amplify the amount of points they get by shoveling their individual points into a shared bank.

2. Thresholds. These are specific thresholds during a Mystery that, when reached after a certain investment of character points, provides a minor benefit and usually one or two paragraphs of lore about the topic. This is a drip feed of information that builds off of the previous milestones, which also means if you don't know what the next milestone is, you can wing it or think on the previous ones for inspiration.

3. Major Revelation. This is a big thing which may challenge a fundamental understanding of the setting and gameplay. It may unlock major subsystems that have their own goofy-rear end rules and also major narrative things which may cause players to view the world in a new light.

4. Conclusion. Once there has been sufficient investment of points into a Mystery, it is solved in some way, which is in and of itself a Major Revelation, and also a game-altering thing. Additionally, this represents a massive amount of points that will be redistributed to all groups participating in the Mystery, which means that everybody gets a big bonus of points beyond what they would normally get per session. I'm talking about game systems potentially changing and doing things like bumping up Tech Level (a pretty major deal in GURPS), or introducing new sourcebooks into play, or completely importing weird poo poo from video games in, like save points or soul transmigration to "reincarnate" the character with better stats, or Demon's Souls "World Tendency", big stuff like that.

One really only needs to start with step 1. By defining the Mystery implies that there is something to be discovered, which is a system that serves the aesthetics that I'm looking for. I don't know as the GM what that might be quite just yet, but I do know enough to create a small seed of inspiration.

Example:

---

The Mystery of the Cartographer's Lore

The delving crews have encountered strange symbols left by other delving companies past. What secrets do these symbols hold?

Threshold: 5 points (per milestone)
Major Revelation: 25 points
Conclusion: 50 points

All crews may now begin contributing to this Mystery.

Current spend: 11/22/2020 - 39 points

---

Given that players receive an average of 2 to 3 points per session but may not necessarily have the funds or capacity to spend those points in town, they have a new thing to invest their points into knowing that they'll get a major reward in the future. However, it's important to give them minor rewards as well, so let's take a look at the first milestone that I created for this Mystery:

---

You have reached the first milestone of the Cartographer's Mystery.

1: In ages past, the Megastrata was much easier to navigate. There was a common library of symbols which all delvers used in the spirit of jolly cooperation. However, greed, corruption, and hostility ruined it for everybody, and the Adventurer's Guild put a ban on all but the most rudimentary symbols that even a trainee would know.

Minor Effect: You can now send and receive encrypted dungeon messages in the Megastrata if you have access to marking tools (chalk, paint, chisels, etc).

---

Given that this is an explicit invitation for players to go "do poo poo in a special way" that they didn't before in the Megastrata, it gives them further impetus to experiment with the wackiness that is in the megadungeon. There's just enough there to give them further encouragement to keep exploring this - if they didn't, then that's fine too.

Technically the minor effect can end up snowballing if there's an explicit mechanical thing they can do in the context of the rules they're nudging one way or another. Not a huge deal (for now), but also gives a player a new option to look over when theorycrafting, which is a hallowed pastime of delvers.

There is some fun to be had with a Major Revelation, because this is intentionally pulling the curtain back just enough to provide something to the players that can (and should) subvert their expectations. It may actually support their suspicions, which is immensely rewarded when they have a lightbulb moment about the setting or the mechanics; or, it may raise further questions for the inevitable payoff.

Some Mysteries lead to other Mysteries. This is intentional, but there's no specific logic for it other than "does it make sense narratively to do so"?

One can gauge the success of an experimental subsystem like this by seeing how players react. In older iterations of this I had Trello boards and other poo poo like that which was great if you sat at a computer for eight hours a day, but some of my players from the older prototypes didn't have computers. Not great! I had to make a conscious decision to change how this information was presented so it could be more easily recorded and recalled.

Discord has proven to be useful for this because it's widely accessible and all players have a phone they can use. Not only does this work for a rolling documentation, it also invites players to collaborate and chat, something that I find to be very exciting because I get some level of validation that I'm on the right track with an experiment based on how much the players are talking to each other outside of the game. This is, I think, part of the secret sauce that Colville talks about when trying to add some level of immersiveness to the game world. People want to interact with this stuff.

Takeaways of Mysteries

There are some major revelations (heh) that I had while designing this subsystem.

1. Players need a positive reinforcement loop. If you put purely a mechanical or purely narrative thing in front of players, not all players will engage with the systems, and some may even push back at such a thing. However, they need some level of encouragement to keep interacting with the thing. Otherwise, you might have a cool idea but it might not have sea legs because it doesn't encourage further interaction with it.

2. Players need to be able to communicate to the GM when they are interested in something. It was very eye-opening to see players clearly "vote with their resources" on what Mysteries they wanted to pursue, because multiple were presented and there was one that clearly won out for now. They bartered with each other and said "if we can invest just a couple more points into this we can get the next milestone..." or "can you wait until after we get this Revelation before you buy your abilities in town". This means that they're taking the system put in front of them seriously, and having a good time doing it.

Edit and sub-point here: Players need to be able to explicitly have a method to do point 2. Sometimes people need a defined procedural method to communicate something that people aren't normally used to doing. Players used to a more passive way of playing suddenly become way more engaged when they realize not only they are expressly capable of doing this, but encouraged to do so. They are also able to communicate to other players on a meta-level out of the game because of this system as well.

3. Players need minor and major narrative and procedural rewards. This goes back to the positive feedback loop but specifically with "rewards" means you need to give players something for their trouble since it's quite a big deal for even a single point to be invested into an experimental subsystem instead of buying a new skill or a new Advantage in GURPS. They might also be saving up for something that requires a major investment in points.

A sub-point of this is that players want to make progress towards something big. Major rewards do not come easily or often, and so it must feel earned rather than given. By giving players the ability to spend resources on their terms, it also feeds back into point 1.

4. Players want experience points. This is highly controversial, I'm sure, for some people, but even indie games have some level of reward on this layer. The key difference between something like the classic level treadmill that D&D, World of Warcraft, and every JRPG under the sun does is that experience point gain is linear and only serves a single purpose. However, after running without experience points in other experiments, I discovered that players want this as a form of "loot" and they also want to be able to "spend the loot". Getting experience points in D&D means that you are X closer to having more fun. Getting experience points in GURPS means you can meaningfully improve your character - provided you can make it back to town alive!

*

All in all, things seem pretty good, so I'm going to keep on developing this as a "core subsystem" for play. There's other stuff of course but this is a mostly self perpetuating fun engine. Also, I have put something special into the first Major Revelation that the players have received, but they might not even discover what that special thing is until the conclusion of the Mystery, heh heh heh.

aldantefax fucked around with this message at 06:53 on Nov 25, 2020

Golden Bee
Dec 24, 2009

I came here to chew bubblegum and quote 'They Live', and I'm... at an impasse.


So what’s everyone’s mega dungeon ‘about’, and who would go into such a structure?

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Golden Bee posted:

So what’s everyone’s mega dungeon ‘about’, and who would go into such a structure?

Big hole in ground with a series of smaller holes. Everybody goes in that goes to adventuring school and gets an adventuring license. Fun and profit ensues. Hijinks!

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

I should also probably talk about zone design for the Megastrata since I mentioned one of the big hairy audacious things was to do 100 levels of a megadungeon. How does one accomplish this?

1. Ten thousand foot view: Extremely high level design for groups of the "Zeroth Zones", which I ultimately called "Megazones" because Megazone 20 was an anime with a cool soundtrack and also it fit the "Mega" theme.

Splitting 100 levels into groups of 10 made sense to me for making thematic areas. Starting with this I defined specific evocative reference names that served as keywords for the zones to follow. Thus, any 0-th level would dictate that theme for the 1st through 9th level of that series.

2. Five thousand foot view: Once I had the Megazones defined by this, I went on to generate names that could serve as ideas for the zones that rolled up to it in a hierarchical fashion. At this point some of the zones came very quickly because I had a core idea (probably ripped from LA-MULANA or something) that had a very strong defining factor. The "Titan's Graveyard" is a clear reference to the "Giant's Graveyard" from LA-MULANA, even.

---

At this point I have the core 100 zones defined. I wanted some clear definition between them and the idea of a dungeon midway station came both from DanMachi and also just like, the concept of Dungeontowns was cool to me, so I decided to have a staging base to go even deeper. Somewhere in the midway point there had to be a clear delineation of danger, and that ought to be a place that you only got to if you knew what you were doing and had appropriate clearance to do so. I think I referred to it as Dungeon Clearance, but Deep Delver's License might be something better.

Made in Abyss also features more prominently here in inspiration terms since there is a sense that there is a "Point of no return" from there. Yes, delver teams will come back and such but nobody will be able to help them if they become lost parties in that deeper place. However, this also means that the greatest prestige and reward comes from there, lingering in the background.

I presented the map as-is front and center in Session Zero for each group. This also meant that the players knew the names of these places but not what lay inside of them (or think they might know based on the name, but aren't sure what to expect yet). The truth of the matter is, as the GM and lead designer of this none of us know what is in there (note: there are no other designers, but it sounds cool if I call myself a lead designer).

At this point the procedural generative process can begin through quest generation.

Order out of primordial dice goop

I created a system by which I was able to quickly determine four elements of a randomly generated quest:

1. Major focus (slay monsters, gather materials)

2. Specific focus (slay really big monsters, slay smaller monsters, gather increasingly exotic materials)

3. Determine "intensity" (how dangerous a thing is going to get during the expedition

4. Determine monetary reward via an easy to understand formulae

By doing the above I was able to quickly generate a table of prompts and then assign those to the team. One quest per player meant that at the outset there were 8 randomly generated quests across two parties, and this also meant that I would need to determine where those quests are placed. This would also give me the opportunity to focus on those zones that the quests are in.

Kick-starting Zone Design

Once I had the quests randomly generated, I determined where in the Upper Strata (zones 1 through 59) where they might be and rerolled if they were in 1 through 9 unless I got inspired. From there, I could create a "one-pager" for the zone.

The one-pager for the zone started with a descriptive picture that matched the theme of the name of the zone and parent description of the Megazone. From there it was one to three paragraphs of content specifically focusing on that zone with no specific guidelines. I imagine that some zones had a very specific history to them - who was Ulrich, and what was their Folly? This picture of Gandalf fighting a Balrog seems like it fits that, but I'll need to fill in the blanks for it to find out why.

From there the zone is mostly complete until the parties decide to quest in it, after which I can dive deeper into adventure design.

Thanks to the random nature of the zone generation, there are no "maps" for these zones yet nor encounter tables, and that's okay. Some zones may never be traversed by the current groups. Others may be generated on the fly or post-journey because I haven't had the time to do them yet. This method has proven to be sustainable since it means after the initial burst of creation I only need to make one or two zones every one to two week of active play sessions. Pretty doable!

Leperflesh
May 17, 2007






It occurred to me this morning that Alpha Complex, the Paranoia setting, is a megadungeon. Complete with ephemerous undefined "any three-letter sequence" Sectors that your clone can come from, just so that you can make a funny pun with your clone's name; and permission granted to the GM to create a sector on the fly for any reason, and stuff it with whatever weird poo poo you want to have going on there, but salted with the trappings that make it still Alpha Complex - the presence (usually) of Friend Computer, colored security zones, bots and other clones, and... yeah probably some huge vats, there's usually vats. But this zone is maybe invested with giant mutant rats, or has been entirely taken over by a radical sect, or there's two competing sets of bots each trying to reconstruct the architecture to suit two radically different designs but they're all programmed against fighting so there's a neverending passive-aggressive war of robots rearranging the furniture.

The theme in Paranoia is not so much about exploring the wondrous nature of Alpha Complex, so that sort of handwavey vagueness about the setting (as opposed to some sort of official Map of Alpha Complex tome filled with every detail of every nook and cranny) is exactly what's needed - it actually serves the intent, that players be paranoid about each other and their world at all times, because everyone really is out to get you, and you don't really know much about where you are or where you're going. Players cannot surreptitiously read the Gazeteer and then feel a sense of security in having that background knowledge.

Plus it's all indoors (except for the outdoors bit) and progression of security clearance areas could be loosely compared to progression into deeper and consequently more dangerous levels?

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Leperflesh posted:

It occurred to me this morning that Alpha Complex, the Paranoia setting, is a megadungeon. Complete with ephemerous undefined "any three-letter sequence" Sectors that your clone can come from, just so that you can make a funny pun with your clone's name; and permission granted to the GM to create a sector on the fly for any reason, and stuff it with whatever weird poo poo you want to have going on there, but salted with the trappings that make it still Alpha Complex - the presence (usually) of Friend Computer, colored security zones, bots and other clones, and... yeah probably some huge vats, there's usually vats. But this zone is maybe invested with giant mutant rats, or has been entirely taken over by a radical sect, or there's two competing sets of bots each trying to reconstruct the architecture to suit two radically different designs but they're all programmed against fighting so there's a neverending passive-aggressive war of robots rearranging the furniture.

The theme in Paranoia is not so much about exploring the wondrous nature of Alpha Complex, so that sort of handwavey vagueness about the setting (as opposed to some sort of official Map of Alpha Complex tome filled with every detail of every nook and cranny) is exactly what's needed - it actually serves the intent, that players be paranoid about each other and their world at all times, because everyone really is out to get you, and you don't really know much about where you are or where you're going. Players cannot surreptitiously read the Gazeteer and then feel a sense of security in having that background knowledge.

Plus it's all indoors (except for the outdoors bit) and progression of security clearance areas could be loosely compared to progression into deeper and consequently more dangerous levels?

I feel like for Paranoia though the Complex was more of a backdrop to launch extremely silly accusations at your friends of being a mutant commie traitor while secretly being one. You could absolutely take the setting and divorce it from its gameplay conceit and then you could adjust it to your liking. I also feel Paranoia is a product of its time, because it was also the heyday of Star Trek and other big names making veiled social commentary by taking the context of the 'real world' and putting it wholly into a 'ridiculous world'. There was an entire genre of death race type sci-fi things too like Running Man and the actual Death Race 2000 where this highly silly and unknowable setting serves as a convenient backdrop.

Other things that the Megastrata could support as an example would be a group of students from dungeon school getting up to no good and going into the Megadungeon, as well as cross-dimensional raiders or other travelers from other worlds and realities that ended up in this weird setting and have to figure out what that means (also known as Every Isekai Anime Trope Ever). You could also change the tonal execution from "wonder" to "horror" or "satire" by tweaking just a few dials. Having the right systems in play for this kind of flexibility could almost certainly give some interesting results.

---

One of the other things that I have been consuming media-wise over the years is the "gamified manhwa" where the main character is either literally or figuratively in an MMORPG like situation complete with system messages and other weird game mechanics bashed into mostly the real world. I think that this is something that is relatively unexplored in the Western media space except for like, TRON and Ready Player One, Otherland, etc. but you see it in almost every new webcomic in a certain demographic in South Korea right now (a lot coming from China too, Japan seems to have mostly moved onto just pure reincarnation / isekai / stranger in a strange land kind of deals).

I think there's some interesting things to be had from there to put back into games that I'm maybe working on systems for, but they are currently under wraps until I finish baking them up. I worry that if I released too many systems at once for this megadungeon it will end up becoming overwhelming for players.

mellonbread
Dec 20, 2017


I'm not 100% on making the world like an MMO, but I do like what you've done with the Adventurer's Guild. One of my favorite things about the Pathfinder setting was the "Pathfinder Society" itself - an adventuring guild that claimed to be disinterested treasure hunters and archaeologists, but was a de facto mercenary army and counterintelligence agency. So the Venture Captain would tell you to dig up some tomb in the wastelands outside Cheliax and find some cool artifacts, but he'd also mention offhand that one of the local bureaucrats had blocked the Society's application to open a Lodge in the city - and if something were to happen to her, you'd find a little extra in your envelopes after the mission.

Golden Bee posted:

So what’s everyone’s mega dungeon ‘about’, and who would go into such a structure?
I had an idea for a Metro 2033 style game run in Esoteric Enterprises where the surface is uninhabitable (frozen, airless, radioactive, filled with monsters, whatever) and humanity (along with various other creatures) only survives underground. So instead of being a hidden underworld beneath a normal functioning city, the megadungeon would be the entire world. Players would explore it to find supplies, technology and magic to keep a small settlement alive.

Halloween Jack
Sep 11, 2003

Let your word be "Yes, Yes" or "No, No"; anything more than this comes from the evil one.




I suppose the first megadungeon I played was The Final Fantasy Legend.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Design prototyping time.

An interesting thing that I'm still trying to figure out how to do in a sensible way but is in and of itself interesting is comestibles in a fantasy setting. I've already mentioned a rather embarrassing amount of anime-type stuff as some of the inspirational ideas, but if there's anything that I most identify with in terms of the aesthetics, it's probably Delicious in Dungeon by Ryoko Kui (Dungeon Meshi). It uses some archetypically familiar settings but has a certain focus on adventurer-monster interactions that I think resonate with what I consider to be a pretty fun dungeon crawl. In that series as well as other video games and the like (Vanillaware games like Dragon's Crown and Odinsphere come to mind) there is a concept of food and drink (but mostly food) as a core part of the systems and presentation in the narrative. Touching on an earlier subject of 'the mundane and boring', I like to think of food as 'the mundane but interesting'.

One can learn a lot about a culture from its food and in wholly fictional cultures like in a megadungeon, foods are derived from what is available inside of the local environment. The game system portion comes from determining the mechanical effects of eating.

Boring: eating food only for survival

Interesting: finding food to survive and get more powerful

The players are currently in a situation where they must deal with a monetary sink of "town upkeep" - this is an abstracted generic way to suck up some money while they fully heal as well as provide some minor opportunities for gathering rumors and new quests. Most people agree that the town upkeep is not particularly 'fun', especially when grappling with an economic and existential threat, so I've been attempting to figure out ways to make this part of the game more interesting.

There is one character in the group who has the capacity to create food and drink, and in town, theoretically could do so infinitely as long as they had organic material to use and turn into edible stuff (even if it is, er, not appetizing). I would like to, at some point, be able to use some kind of lightweight system to determine different kinds of foods and their effects as another system of discovery for players to leverage.

This has a couple of things though that still need to be considered:

- The system must not be overly complicated, so it's likely that it will be some rollable tables that provide inspiration pointers
- The system should encourage people to use it, so it's probably going to be a positive reinforcement loop similar to Mysteries. Using food means you get stronger, rather than if you don't eat food you get weaker.
- The system should fit the aesthetics. This would mean that the more exotic the foods (where it was harvested from, how it's prepared, and other factors) should also be a part of at least the maximal weirdness. Maybe the nature-loving people in the party can get more use out of their capabilities by harvesting dungeon mud and using it to make a small garden at the delving company.

I'll pull from Monster Hunter here because I thought one of the things that was quite reviled but also mildly endearing in its mundane-ness was the concept of the "farm". This was featured from Monster Hunter Freedom Unite and onwards as a place you return to in order to harvest materials and can upgrade for an extra boost or padding when you're trying to engage with the other gameplay loops of upgrading gear and preparing for your journey. It was the video game equivalent of making your bed, which also meant it was literally and metaphorically a chore.

There is something inherently silly about someone who goes out on a regular basis to hunt fire-breathing dinosaurs with a sword that is about the size of a modest signboard also coming back home to check their beehives for honey, but also it provided another layer of interesting dynamic in the game. There's no consequence for not tending to your farm, but also you miss out on the resources it can provide. It also, crucially, provides people something to do while they're waiting for their friends to get ready for a hunt and has that certain level of boring downtime that still keeps one in the gameworld in some level.

The way I would envision foodstuffs playing a role in a game like this would be require a few things then:

- Discovery. Players can make some kind of gathering roll while in the Megastrata to gather comestibles. Based on their roll results and the context, determine type of thing, maybe just based on macronutrient groups??

- Determining categorization. Ingredients should have a primary group (protein, fat, fiber) and a secondary group for flavor (sweetness, savoriness, umami, sourness, bitterness, special), as well as an "intensity" value. You can then roll 3d6 for this in order to get the key characteristics of an ingredient harvested from something.

Example:

Rolled 3, 1, 6 on a Curious Plant. Fat, sweet, and the most intense possible. This doesn't map to a real world thing, so I can just say yeah, why can't a plant have fat candy? Why does a plant have fat at all? Well, of course plants have fats because they have oils, so maybe this is like, an avocado. But because it's at the maximum "intensity", then does that mean it's a mega-avocado?

- Determining game effects. Once the inspiration has more or less set in either on the fly or in advance, then there should be some kind of benefit that is perhaps on par with what is available from alchemic concoctions, except for healing and resurrection. This is to preserve the importance and rarity of healing potions as well as the Cleric, whose main role is to have heals while backing up the party as a tanky friend. Just to make it easy, effects have three categories: buffs, debuffs, environment.

- Combine game effects with categorization output. This should be enough to go off of in order to create a food item that allows for players to identify (correctly or not) and then take advantage of once they know what to do with it. Mega-avocado + buff = this gives you healthy avocado skin for 4 DR (equivalent to a mail hauberk) for an hour, or something like that. There's no specific rules for this but there should be enough indicators to do something like that.

If using this system, then you would also want to consider what happens when players combine items together either in town or in the dungeon. This is where as a GM I would impart the players to go figure out what they could reasonably do with their skills and materials in order to make something. If they're in town, maybe they can make a mega-avocado shake by mixing it with milk, and then they can take the effects with them in potion form to use on the next adventure only. That'd be pretty nice.

The above design allows players to flex their skills somewhat, provide a new form of loot, as well as provide some positive benefits, so it checks all those boxes. Will it make players want to interact with it? I don't quite know yet because I literally just wrote this while chowing down on some mashed potatoes. This will likely go through a few more rounds of brainstorming and treatment before entering the Gazeteer and thus the actual game space.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

I had a bit of inspiration while I was out and about today about 'cooking', which could have a success ladder when combining ingredients. You can compile ingredients that have a one word quality attached to them (GM or player chooses) - when cooking, you choose three ingredients and shove their descriptions into a bag along with a variety of other things like heat and flavor descriptions. If you make a cooking roll of some kind, you can also add in other descriptions to the bag. Then, you draw out tokens a la Orleans or Coffee Roaster or Puzzle Strike until you are 'done cooking'.

This probably would be pretty easy for players to engage with (just throw words in a bag and pull them out) but might take some time to write up as a GM, but I could see something like creamy, hot, and sour when cooking with a mega-avocado and some mega-spice over an open flame to have a certain result. Bonus points if there is something that could be put in for what people's opinions of the meal are through descriptions, like, "ahh, this mega-avocado spice roast tastes of boot leather and reminds me of the first slice of cheese I had". I'll have to work on that one.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Tomorrow I'm going to be going into a solo retreat where hopefully I have nobody bothering me (as close to zero people as possible) for a week. During that timeframe I think I will continue to think on the Megastrata and its future and possibly just work on creating other systems keeping in mind the things that I have set up as guidelines. It's useful to externalize this and put it in writing for other people to consume since it helps me to order my thoughts a bit on those.

As part of the retreat I will be using as minimal an amount of electronics as possible, so I'm going to be going to be taking with me the good old fashioned pencil and paper* (i may take a e-pencil and e-paper with me for the sake of portability). Keeping in mind what I can design during this one week timeframe, I think it will be useful to also establish a 'system for designing systems', which I've touched on previously by talking about megadungeon themeing, but have not elaborated on in detail.

Creating systems for creating systems

Since I had noted that my systems should be fairly simple by themselves and should build upon each other to provide a more immersive experience, I think the primary consideration is to 'design within constraints'. Thus, when going into retreat I will give myself three mandates when doing this system creation and exploration:

1. Physical constraints: Sizing. While it's easy to design systems that are tens of pages requiring insane dice rolls and stuff like that (does anybody remember how insane Valherjar's dice mechanics were? Just me??) that I should be able to describe in full the system itself as a single page idea. This could include diagrams, tables, and so on, but it must be one page, whatever size that page may be. If I can't fit it onto that page, it is likely too complex to fully articulate to players. As a side note, I will consider a page for these purposes "any piece of paper on a single side".

2. Physical constraints II: Dice. Currently I've been designing with whatever dice the parent system is using. In this case, because I have GURPS, that means I have a variety of d6s to use in different ways. This would mean that I should continue to do this, but I could explore and continue to innovate on these systems by adding other dice. Thus, I am going to take the following dice with me:

- 4 fudge dice
- 1 green d6
- 1 grey d6
- 1 pink d6
- 1 red d6
- 2 novelty d6s that I got from one of my players' weddings that I went to (the company I keep, I swear to goodness)

As a design objective, I want to investigate how using these dice in different ways, be they physical (stacking dice? ordering dice? putting dice onto a page like a target zone?) or conceptual (when a die lands with an even/odd number of pips, what does that mean? what about if there are no pips on that face because of a stylized novelty logo?)

3. Discard nothing. There may be times where I am going to say, out loud, "This is stupid. I am stupid. This whole thing? poo poo bad. Everything bad forever." I will endeavor no matter how many weird errors or mistakes that I may come across or if I can't figure out a way to make a system 'fun', I will retain it for further treatment later. I may strike through something but it should still be retrievable for later discussion and thought process.

4. Record audio of the design process. I am planning to bring along a Zoom H5 with me to record my thoughts on various things including design work. If I'm feeling it, I will set it up to record as I step through these design hoops and ladders.

Using these controls should help in the discovery process so that I can come back in a week to find that this thread has crated and is on page 6 of the discussion forum, to which I can enact dark sorcery to put a whole lot of really questionable mechanics in here to discuss in further detail. I do kind of hope that other people will take advantage of the thread to continue discussion about topics or provide feedback (even the players who are currently in my games are welcome to chime in!).

Well, now that I've written these agreements down for myself, I should perhaps finish packing and then hit the road, and I'll be back on December 5th.

aldantefax fucked around with this message at 02:07 on Nov 28, 2020

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

mellonbread posted:

I'm not 100% on making the world like an MMO, but I do like what you've done with the Adventurer's Guild.

I think I had a typo somewhere earlier when I should clarify this game is not really an MMO but since MMORPGs take their design notes chiefly from tabletop RPGs which roll up to archetypical sci-fi and fantasy ideas by playing to the genre, it serves as a useful reference point. To wit, it is not an aesthetic that all players may like, but then again, players have agency in how they perceive the world, and they also need to get things done.

The earliest mention of a megadungeon that I can think of is from Angband, both the stories surrounding it in the Silmarillion and also from the roguelike of the same name. In it, there was the concept of the dungeon town, and then from there the only things to do were to delve, or quit. This served well aesthetically because while not strictly an MMO it served as a point of interest for stories and inspiration for an ever-changing dungeon, of which it and Moria were chief design points, given that the history of development was Tolkien and his ilk > D&D and so on > early interactive fiction like Colossal Cave Adventure > Rogue > Moria > Angband, NetHack, and so on > MUDs > Diablo and Everquest > World of Warcraft and so on > Back into D&D and so on. I'm sure there's more from a historical perspective to dive into from there, but I digress.

Any game that you design for a tabletop RPG will likely have some nods to MMOs, and if you present it to players, most will be familiar with MMOs but not traditional games (as opposed to the other way around 20-30 years ago). As a result, using MMO as a shorthand to describe things and then immediately take a hard turn into the deeply weird poo poo right away is a useful procedural tool in order to get them to go "ah, this is NOT like the thing that I thought it was" and get that conversation going.

A lot of the systems design taking place for the Megastrata is very intentionally doing so while keeping both "systems" and "aesthetics" both in mind, and as such allows for further immersion. But, as mentioned in the OP, this is a design that services and massages my brain, and I am the target audience for this project, so it comes back down to a matter of taste and presentation. I could use any number of other 'things' to stand-in for referring to MMO-type player services but the idea gets across well enough.

whydirt
Apr 18, 2001


Gaz Posting Brigade


This is a cool thread, thanks for posting it!

Fuligin
Oct 27, 2010

wait what the fuck??



whydirt posted:

This is a cool thread, thanks for posting it!

Don't have much to add at the moment but

Halloween Jack
Sep 11, 2003

Let your word be "Yes, Yes" or "No, No"; anything more than this comes from the evil one.




One of the earliest megadungeons in literature, by my reckoning, is Margaret St. Clair's Sign of the Labrys, which was listed in Appendix N. It's a post-apocalyptic novel where most of the population has been killed by fungal plagues. The survivors live in enormous underground bunkers that the US government made in anticipation of nuclear war.

The strangest thing about it is that it's a post-apocalypse without scarcity. The gummint also made huge stocks of preserved rations, disposable clothing, etc. so when people need something, they just walk into a warehouse and take it. The protagonist works in a warehouse pointlessly shifting boxes around, just to have something to do. (The only actually necessary work is bulldozing corpses into mass graves.) There's little violence--people avoid each other out of fear of the plague, and because humans have lost their instinct to be social animals.

Of course, there are lots of stories about impossibly huge subterranean monster lairs, from pulp fiction all the way back to mythology. But in this novel they actually talk about the environment having levels, and accessing new and undiscovered levels through hidden chutes and shafts. There are also some monsters created by mutations and experiments--mostly slime molds, which probably had some inspiration on D&D oozes. (The most interesting one feeds on CO2 in an endothermic reaction, and gives off some compound that causes hallucinations. So if you get close to it, you'll trip balls and stumble around until you freeze to death.)

Another influence from Appendix N that I could mention is Mount Voormithadreth from Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborea stories. That one wasn't mentioned in Appendix N, though.

Leperflesh
May 17, 2007






What's Appendix N?

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Halloween Jack
Sep 11, 2003

Let your word be "Yes, Yes" or "No, No"; anything more than this comes from the evil one.




It's a bit near the back of the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide that lists some influences on D&D. It includes some authors you'd expect--Howard, Tolkien, Vance, Anderson--and some that are practically forgotten today. For example, Abraham Merritt received special mention on the shortlist of the most influential authors.

Halloween Jack fucked around with this message at 19:16 on Dec 1, 2020

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