By the time my first successful fortress fell to a goblin siege, I had hundreds unique chambers spread over about 34 levels. Each room told a story. Each was filled with goods, engravings, or furnishings that depicted its main use, and many were the items (including legendary artifacts) that an adventuring party would covet. While playing I constantly paused to imagine the goings-on as the dwarves went about their daily lives, trudging up and down endless flights of stairs, drinking in one of the vast meeting halls, or fighting denizens of the underworld as they came up into specially prepared murder halls. The levels each had their own themes, both in the material they were constructed from as well as the usage to which they were put. In short, I had built a mega dungeon, out of a working, thriving Dwarf Fortress.
For a few weeks now, I have been obsessed with the free independent game known as Dwarf Fortress. You can read my preview of it here, as well as my two part series detailing the Rise and Fall of Stasisgem. While playing the game, I was continuously struck by how much of the game could be used for a mega dungeon in Dungeons and Dragons. Then the idea hit me – why not put it to that use? My plan is to play a game of Dwarf Fortress with this end result in mind. I will use a roll of Gaming Paper to transcribe my fortress (once complete, and by complete I mean inevitably abandoned) and I will have the seed for an entire campaign ready to detail out and play.
The idea here is that an organically grown mega dungeon will be more realistic than one created from whole cloth. It will be useful that the needs of the dwarves are what lead to which chambers being carved, and that it will make sense to the future explorers, rather than being a random assortment of rooms and creatures. The adventurers will spend their time searching for the fabled treasure vaults, uncovering the giant mushroom farms, seeing the destroyed barricades down where the fortress penetrates the underdark ( underground caverns) and other inspiring locations, ALL BASED ON ACTUAL GAME PLAY.
Dwarf Fortress is a complex enough simulation that almost all the details of the game will translate well into D&D. There are legends, artifacts, treasures, monsters, heroes, villains, epic pets, ghosts, and everything else one associates with a dungeon. Nearby trading communities and enemies will provide above-ground opportunities, and the life and death of the fortress will help to re-populate the abandoned fortress for future dungeon delving.
Indeed, Dwarf Fortress already has an “Adventure” mode, where a player can take on the role of a hero and explore abandoned mines, fight monsters, and that sort of thing, in a computerized D&D-like manner, so this idea isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. Bringing it to a role-playing source is more about taking it out of the computer and putting a real live DM (that’s me!) behind the screen. So what would a Dwarf Fortress mega dungeon campaign look like?
The Nuts and Bolts
First comes the playing. The Fortress must be built, must grow to appropriate size, and with a mind to the future, must be destroyed. It would be awkward to try and loot a thriving dwarf community after all! With that in mind, the next few weeks will see a series of posts on “Megadru the Hammered Pillars” a dwarf fortress in the northern highlands. Situated in a mountain pass that is the dividing line between a cold sandy desert and a pine forest, the Hammered Pillars will grow to become the Next Epic campaign I run for Dungeons and Dragons. (That is, if my dwarves survive. It may take a couple of tries before I get a fortress with sticking power.”
As the game progresses, extensive notes will be kept regarding notable events, personalities, and items. These notes will be used to create story elements, rumours, legends, and quests. For example, in the year of its founding, the brewer Lolor the Blind fell through the ice while plant harvesting. Not only are his whereabouts worthy of a quest, but the items he had on him could also be valuable. It could be that he had seeds, or a recipe for a now extinct brew of dwarf beer. Using these notes will help to provide a rich tapestry to weave into a campaign.
The basic premise is that the fortress Megadru was lost (unknown why at this time, though I suspect it will be goblins) and that after 100+ years, the abandoned fortress has been found. A pioneer town has built up nearby to cater to the increasing number of adventurers. This alone is enough to spark a campaign, but for Megadru, I want to go further, and embed certain over-arching campaign goals.
Each character will have the following goals, associated with them being a representative of their culture, come to reclaim what rightfully belongs to them:
Amass 1 million gold pieces. Personal wealth and items do not count toward this goal, it must be ‘banked.’
Retrieve certain artifacts from the Fortress (Each PC will have 2-4 items they are responsible for finding).
Determine the fate of each of the 200 dwarves who lived and died at Megadru.
If all these conditions are met, which I foresee taking 10-15 levels worth of adventuring, then the character can be assumed to have ‘won’ the game. I hope to come up with a few more goals, such as something including the engravings, or piecing together certain historical events. I would also like to add something for retrieving dwarven historical tablets, or steles. And in addition to these general goals, each character may have a set of specific class or race goals associated with the dwarf fortress.
The options are limitless, but the intent is to make this a pure dungeon exploration campaign with distinct, attainable goals. That is not to say that all adventuring is done in the fortress, there can be wilderness and other adventures, but they will (or should) relate to the primary goals outlined at the start of the game.
Having played for 4+ years in fairly non-linear open ended games, it will be interesting to have such a straight-forward campaign to play. And for any of my players reading this, do not worry about being forced to retire your 13th level characters any time soon. The game itself will take weeks to play out, and when it ends, the job of transcribing the results into a workable mega dungeon will begin. I see 3-6 months passing before the campaign is ready to kick off.
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