Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Old School Planebox and The Abyss as Megadungeon

When Planescape first came out, dungeon crawling was probably at its absolute nadir of popularity: this was the mid 90s, when the World of Darkness was in vogue and everything had to be edgy, story-driven (i.e., largely railroaded) and infused with angst, drama and meaning. So the idea that you could use it for old school dungeoneering was never made explicit in the published materials; I think the designers wanted the players to do more "mature" things with the setting, whatever that meant.

But dungeoneering is certainly implied in the Planescape if you look for it. Planes like Pandemonium and Baator basically are big dungeons, and Sigil is the start location for an old school-type D&D campaign par excellence - a place where you can buy and sell anything, go anywhere (if you know the right people and can find the right portal keys) and get involved in politicking and advancement. The pattern, I suppose, for this sort of campaign would be:
  • Start in Sigil. Use it as a base for dungeoneering exploits throughout the multiverse.
  • Make lots of money, gain levels.
  • Get involved in politics and advancement, reach higher echelons of a faction if that's your thing, start branching out into the belief-oriented specifics of the setting.
  • Create your own realm somewhere, except you can do it anywhere in the multiverse if that's what you fancy.
Which is really exactly the same pattern that a typical fantasy sandbox campaign takes, with a few bells and whistles. Call it Planebox, because, let's face it, it's fun to say.

The ultimate Planebox megadungeon is, of course, The Abyss. The Abyss is the Chaotic Evil plane, ruled by the Tanar'ri (okay, okay... "demons"), but absolutely infinite in scope: there are countless layers of The Abyss, each of which is infinite in its own way. There is literally no constraint on the imagination of the DM in coming up with whatever the hell he wants within this plane; it can be as fantastical or mundane as he desires, and there is no requirement whatsoever for any of it to make sense - listen, this place is infinite. Do you want an entire dungeon that is really a forest, but the branches of the trees are all actually snakes? Do you want a dungeon that is actually the digestive tract of a gargantuan whale swimming in an infinitely large ocean? Do you want a dungeon that is made out of mirrors and populated by glass golems? It's all there and more. Best of all, for the adventurer, anything that you could possible desire is in there somewhere: the only problem being that you have to negotiate an infinite amount of Chaotic Evil entities and an infinite amount of hostile environments to get it.


  1. Exactly! Planescape easily supports dungeoncrawling, wilderness and city adventures of the old school type, it just adds a another level of icing of the fantastio over the top of them.

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  5. High Adventure in the Lower Planes (from the Tome of Fiends):

    Tunnels crisscross Pandemonium all over the place, and they are completely stable because the way gravity works there actually can't be a cave-in. But the place is dark and windy, and filed with tunnels that move around for no reason. The caverns are filled with monsters, traps, and treasure. It's all there, from shambling zombies to ninja temples, the low level areas cross seamlessly into the higher level ones.

    Oddly, this is the only place in the entire multiverse of D&D where the old Gygaxian standby of having deeper and deeper levels of the dungeon filled with nastier and nastier monsters and traps actually makes sense. There's a town nearby, and the map doesn't have to make any sense at all. If you're looking for Nethack style adventuring, Pandemonium delivers.

    They even manage to make the Grey Wastes of Hades interesting...

  6. Trey: Well, the beauty of it is that it can support *anything*, I suppose! ;)

    Robo: What's an Agogi Man?

    Chris: They did - that's a very cool page. Thanks for the link.

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  8. Make that "@noisms." Damn HAL9000 Droid autospellcorrect.

  9. It's a race on Planet Algol.

  10. Thanks, Robo. I'll check them out.

  11. The races of Algol can be found here: I wouldn't use that particular race as I have since found out that their name has some horrible connotations.

  12. I ran a game like that actually. Not so much megadungeoning, but sigil was more like a launching point to a bunch of minidungeon areas throughout the entire universe.

    It was a ton of fun

  13. sigil sounds kinda like something I've had on the backburner for a while...

    The thing with an infinite megadungeon-hell is that it won't contain any kind of home for the PCs, right? You pretty much have to come from outside it for limited forays and then retreat to a safer exterior place. With smaller dungeons there's the promise that you might empty them, rehabilitate or seal them, and move on - reclaim them for civilisation. That's simpoly not the case here, and I think that changes the relationship between the players and the dungeon significantly.

    It becomes like whaling.