100 MINUTES OF MEGADUNGEON MAYHEM: My Open-Table Megadungeon Format 2024 Goal

I never feel that I have a good handle on retrospectives and I don't have awards to give out yet, so instead let me talk about an RPG goal that I have in 2024 given it is the 50th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons.

Play is a key activity in the RPG space and a key goal of mine in 2024.

Few other activities trump play in terms of keeping the hobby alive. A crucial loss of the G+ era was the ability to have actual play be in such close proximity to the discourse and creativity around old-school D&D. The whole scene vibrated with this energy. Talk about a cool idea on Monday and by Thursday/Friday night, you had games running with those same concepts. I want to continue to evangelize that aspect. Play is the best expression of D&D. And experiences from actual play still seem to be a minority in the hobby space. 

I started out running Caverns of Thracia & Forbidden Caverns of Archaia at my local game store. It proved popular as I would regularly have tables of 6-10 strangers. Wonderfully, 3 other people from that experience decided to start DMing as well. I love my present-day 2+ years experience with Miranda Elkins' Nightwick Abbey and its done a lot to make me want to get back into the DM's seat more.

But time per week will be a factor in 2024 and I want this to not be a burden on me and morph into feeling like an obligation instead of something fun. To combat this issue here is what I think is a nice setup:


1 | Two-Hour Format

WHY: I'll be busy this year so a short session would work best for me, the DM. Also, if a player happens to join and it is not their thing, then they will not have wasted an afternoon. Here's the breakdown that is technically 120 minutes, but "100 Minutes" is a punchier sell.

  • 10 min: Gather...
  • 50 min: Play!
  • 10 min: Break.
  • 50 min: Play!

2 | Megadungeon-Focused Open-Table

WHY: With the goal of adventure crammed into 100 minutes, I think this "microcosm" would be ideal: town-to-dungeon and back again. This keeps the world simple and it can be quickly conveyed in a few moments. I think the past couple of years of ZeldaDark Souls, Blasphomous and Darkest Dungeon games have also prepped the wider potential audience for a megadungeon environment.

Plus, I think there is great potential for a megadungeon to grow specifically through the actions of the store players. So a nice opportunity to build something that is community-specific if that makes sense? The great podcast Into The Megadungeon expounds on this.

I also want to encourage a more low-overhead version of D&D. I want to break down this idea that it requires so much prep and backstory and PC optimization. Bleh. Sit-down, roll up a PC and play!

3 | BX-based System 

WHY: It's the one I know the most and would be easiest for me to run. This gets back to the whole idea of keeping this a fun activity and not an obligation. I can also add in a lot of the OSE Advanced classes for players who want that. And since I am running it at a store, Old-School Essentials might be the way to go because it is also something the store itself could stock✤. 

Some possible alternatives:

  • OD&D: The 50th anniversary of D&D this year would be a great time to roll this out thematically
  • Shadowdark: Best option to draw 5e folks and it was inspired by BX
  • Knave 2e: Just released, so a simple classless system, but might throw too many people off who want to play an elf barbarian
  • Cairn: Like Knave quick and to the point especially the auto-hit combat and ablative armor (or Mork Borg)

I'll most likely use the house rules document Serpent Song Hymnal to adjudicate. I also think I'll be throwing in some recent rules I've picked up:

  • If a PC fills only four equipment slots, +1 to all rolls
  • Fighters have a bonus equal to their level which can be added to the to-hit roll, damage roll, or to make an extra attack with no bonus
I might also use Shadowdark's sand timer method of tracking torches to keep everyone making decisions fast. This won't always result in optimal decisions but I think it will keep game playing feeling fast and risky (I hope).

5 | Downtime Procedures

WHY: I think downtime procedures from carousing to crafting to romancing provide (1) a sink for resources, (2) a sense of a living world, and (3) an outlet for role-play that might not quite be provided by strict dungeon crawling. Keep it simple at first, but use Downtime in Zyan to flesh out any additional needs of the table. Ben L., the author, puts it best here:

[Downtime] serves as an antidote to the relentlessly cooperative and world-focused character of OSR play by allowing PCs to develop some uniqueness and depth. It facilitates the pursuit of individual ends in addition to the collective ones. By not gating downtime behind name level play it allow players to pursue their dreams and leave their mark on the campaign world from early levels. It is also designed to be part of a virtuous circle with adventuring, so that downtime itself creates hooks and problems to be solved through adventuring, and adventuring creates the possibility of further downtime.

6 | Just Play

Hope this is an inspiration for you, dear reader, to run a game this 2024. Remember, no one knew how to do it "correctly" or the "best way" in 1974 and 50 years later I think it is still that way- just play. As Miranda so wonderfully put it:


✤ I know that RPGs make next to nothing when compared to MtG or Warhammer. But when recently speaking with the ower of my local FLAGS, I was dismayed to learn that even 5e makes nothing for the store because most folks just come in, see the books, and buy them on Amazon.

The owner did think about pivoting more toward indies inorder to support the RPG space, but still be able to make a profit on the books.

THE OLD DUNGEON WORKSHOP: One (Quick) Way I Build A Dungeon


I've recently completed the first level of my "wine dungeon", run it for 12 sessions, and finally have strong thoughts coalescing for a level 2. Given that next year will be the 50th anniversary of D&D, dungeons and dragons have been on my mind.

I think two three of the best articles I've read on dungeon building are:

Looking at Nick's The Two-Week Megadungeon post, he had a nice little table (below). I think it demonstrate that when creating a dungeon it is helpful to thing of monsters, traps, and treasures that define your dungeon.

I've taken that table below and linked to one of my various thoughts on the matter:

Roll 1d20 for each Room
1-10: Empty
11-13: Creatures (and what they want)
14-16: Creatures with Treasure
17: Trap
18: Trap with Treasure
19: Something Weird
20: Unguarded Treasure

Get to that map-making because after all: 
It also important to remember that something is better than nothing.  All D&D is hackwork and a half-assed idea that gets your game on the table is better than a perfect one that takes months. ~In Places Deep, Mastering the Megadungeon

Make your monster, trap, treasure lists, check 'em twice.
And draw out that dungeon- rooms both naughty and nice!
Grab friends one and all, 8-10 should suffice.
And kick in a door one, twice, thrice!
For their trouble, they die by tooth, claw, slime, or vice!
But the danger is worth it with treasure in their sights!

I SHOULD HAVE CAST LIGHT: And Other Lessons From the 4th Level of Hell

Couldn't help making a book cover for the campaign using
the King story that in part inspired Nightwick, Rose Red

Finished our 76th Session of Nightwick Abbey and that session was a bad one. Well "bad" only in the sense that the party did not get much done, gained no treasure, and almost died. Almost. Its good because the Abbey re-established itself as a threat. Its good because narrowly avoiding a TPK made things tense.

What makes it a good "bad" game, well at least from my perspective I felt like with this session I ignored everything I have learned from my previous 75 sessions of delving Nightwick. And as a result, risked a TPK. Here is what I did wrong with Mayfly:

  • Lack of basic equipment accounting makes for poor trap management: We've transfered from a VTT to Figma-a virtual white-board. This has been great because it decreased prep time for our DM, Miranda, and made it more likely that game would happen.

    But this has caused me to not transfer over some of that stuff to my new sheet. Stupid. Because in our 76th-session we encountered a trap that would have be disabled with 10ft poles, 50' of rope, and sacks. This trap came back to haunt us.

  • Not talking first leads to fights you don't need to have: This one really gets me. I am a big fan of talking to things in dungeons. It is often interesting as a player and interesting as a DM. Sure maybe cutting deals with dark forces is a bad idea, but it makes for exciting gameplay. Not what Mayfly did this time.

    The minute two demons introduced themselves- Fireball. Now true one introduced themselves "The Bane of Mothers" and "The Eater of Children" so such a crazy reaction, but...eh... maybe should have given them a few more minutes. They were also immune to fire and Web burst into flames.

    However, Mayfly is high INT (can cast Fireball), but low WIS (doesn't always judge the best time)- so this really was on point.

    Now the setup orientation looks like this: Demons-Best Fighter-Paralyzing Trap-Rest of the Party. Bad. We escaped due to a well-cast Fog but due to the trap our best fighter was uncontrollably sobbing due to understanding the sins of all mankind.

  • When threats are unknown, assume maximal threats: I have two general spell memorization strategies ✤ for Mayfly (well three as I have one for overland travel) which are:
    • Attack Target: Fireball (3), Fireball (3), Web (2), Protection from Evil (1), Light (1)
    • Level Recon: Fireball (3), Web (2), ESP, (2), Protection from Evil (1), Charm Person (1), Sleep (1)

      What happened here is that I chose the "recon program" without really understanding the threats of Level 4 very well. Which caused Mayfly to not have additional damage heavy hitters. But even so, I might try running more with Lighting Bolt because that will help with fire-immune creatures.

  • Light is still GOAT and a still underappreciated offensive spell: With a now magic-sword controlled fighter (yup, gotta be wary about magic weapons with egos when you are feeling down), the party decides to keep going. We run into 5 "Bleeding Knights". Our sword-possessed charges ahead and the party rushes to form a skirmish line. 

    Ulf fires off a Light spell and blinds one knight (in BX you can't attack if blinded✤✤). Mayfly follows up with the single Light scroll he has from 20 sessions ago-- blinding another. Ulf is able to blind another. Then our magic sword friend gains purchase and begins slicing through them

    Next time, prep Light at least once. Best twice.


✤ In Miranda's Nightwick Campaign, Magic-Users use spell points instead of slots. So the spell level is how many points it costs to cast. I like this system because it still constrains spell choice but allows some high-level spells to be cast a lower levels-- which fits into my view of how to conform old-school play to modern environments (see also here and at All Dead Generations).

✤✤ Even if the Metzer interpretation of Light is used (-6 to-hit and -4 to saves instead of blind) it is still a good bargain and strong against 4+ HD enemies.