When you get down to it, my D&D designs are greatly influenced by the form of the game that Gary Gygax seemed to be writing about in the DMG. And that means dungeons. Lots and lots of dungeons. Yes, I know that he also wrote about territory development and wilderness exploration, but those sections are rather scant in the DMG, whilst there’s a lot on stocking dungeons.
Along the way, I’ve designed parts of my own Castle Greyhawk, and another megadungeon that just happened to be built next to the location that Ian chose for his stronghold. That dungeon acquired the name of the Crypt-Maze of Karak’zhn, and had the wonderful experience of one of the players agreeing to serve the Knight of Hell trapped down the bottom and then disappearing… with the map! (Amazingly, Greg was able to guide them out of the dungeon!)
My most recent self-designed megadungeon has been the Caverns of the Oracle. It wasn’t meant to be a megadungeon, but that’s how it’s developed. It started as a ruined keep where a cleric was raising undead to terrorize a nearby town. When the group weren’t able to kill him in their first foray, I had him kidnapped by duergar, so when the group returned to the keep they found the cleric missing and a set of newly constructed stairs leading down into the depths…
The depths got bigger as players explored them. They were mostly constructed using the random tables in the AD&D DMG, plus a lot of improvisation on my part, which is how I run a lot of games these days. I’d make notes as I went, so I do actually have quite a lot of material on the Caverns now. And yes, the Caverns do contain an Oracle, which is why they’re called that!
Are the caverns finished? By no means; I’m not sure if they ever will be. They’re certainly a long way from being in a publishable state, though occasionally I think I should do something with my notes.
Here’s one of my favourite tricks in the dungeon:
DUERGAR ARCHWAY. This archway is filled with a greyish mist, roiling about and preventing passage. Above the archway are set three gems – a sapphire, an emerald and a ruby. If they are pressed in the proper sequence – Emerald, Sapphire, Ruby – the mists will allow passage for the next minute. If they are pressed in the wrong order, then for the next minute the mists will inflict 2d6 damage on any trying to pass and throw them back. Non-living material may pass through the mists unharmed, however (so testing with 10′ poles or coins will not work).
If the duergar realise the code to the archway has been broken, they will change it. After several intrusions, they’ll create a more complicated code, such as Emerald, Sapphire, Ruby, Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald! In this manner, they will protect their stronghold from intruders. Captured duergar in the main dungeon will know the code to get through the archway, but most will be reluctant to divulge it.
At present, the group that have explored the Caverns are a long way from it exploring the Castle of the Mad Archmage, but they’ll need to use the gateway to the Bifrost Bridge placed in the Caverns to free Wotan, so there’ll be at least one more excursion into this dungeon!