Today is the feast of St. Artemius of Antioch. During the reigns of St. Constantine the Great and his son Constantius, Artemius was a prominent military leader. When Constantius was emperor, Artemus was sent to Patras to retrieve the relics of the Apostle Andrew and to Thebes of Boetia to retrieve the relics of St. Luke. In return for these services, he was made viceroy of Egypt, where he spread and strengthened the faith.
Constantius was succeeded by Julian the Apostate (a regular character in these Saintly Saturday posts). The new emperor had rejected Christianity and wanted to restore paganism to the Empire. In his zeal, he had two bishops of Antioch tortured and killed for refusing to forsake Christ. While this persecution was taking place, Artemius arrived in Antioch and publicly denounced the emperor. This, of course, enraged the emperor and Artemius was subjected to heinous tortures and thrown into prison. Eventually, once Julian realized he was not going to change the saint's resolute mind, he had Artemius beheaded.
If seen through the lens of a D&D character career, the story of St. Artemius primarily takes place in the mid- and high levels. His quest to retrieve the relics of Sts. Andrew and Luke are akin to wilderness adventures. He had to cross the Aegean Sea in order to get to Thebes of Boetia (which is in Greece, not Egypt) and then trek across to the other side of Greece in order to get to Patras (and might even have had to cross the Gulf of Corinth). Having returned with these prizes to the emperor, his appointment as viceroy is the equivalent of building a stronghold. His conflict with Julian, then, is akin to the end game, where high level characters are dealing with larger political issues.
Though I do not spend any time on the boards, nor have I paid much attention to the play tests of Dwimmermount, I have caught wind of a level of disappointment with both the format of Mr. Maliszewski’s project and the dungeoncrawl in general.
I have to admit that I really don’t understand either of these sentiments. Dwimmermount was explicitly an experiment in doing a megadungeon cleaving as close to the rules of OD&D as possible. Due to the nature of that ruleset, this naturally requires far more creativity from the Referee and a much larger emphasis on exploration. Personally, these are exactly the two things I love about the game. As a player, some of the best sessions I have ever had involved nothing but exploring ancient ruins with nary a hint of combat. As a Ref, I love dropping hints of the backstory of why there is a megadungeon in the first place and seeing the light go on as these hints get pieced together into a greater understanding.
Of course, I have found that a successful campaign (in which I include Maliszewski’s original Dwimmermount) includes a wilderness exploration component, as looking at the life of St. Artemius through D&D glasses suggests. From personal experience, however, the key to making the megadungeon work (as opposed to a series of location-based adventures scattered across a wilderness) is to tie that wilderness exploration to the backstory of the megadungeon.
I’ll give two good examples. When Maliszewski ran Mr. Raggi’s excellent Death Frost Doom, he tied it to Dwimmermount by having the history Cyrus Maximus intertwine with the history of Dwimmermount. It added to the mystery and story of Dwimmermount. In my own Lost Colonies campaign, my players have ended up both on a spaceship and on an alien planet. The first had the Two Swords, which Dn. Goram was sent to retrieve and return to my megadungeon and the latter had a gate that led to the bowels of my megadungeon. Each of these adventures added to the mystery and backstory of my megadungeon.
In other words, the megadungeon (when used creatively) can be the backbone of every aspect of the typical D&D character's career — the initial dungeon delve, the wilderness exploration and the end game. Having personally seen this happen, it not only can make a campaign sing, but something that you want to go back to over and over again.
17 hours ago