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I play a lot of AD&D 2e, and I really enjoy creating dungeons and megadungeons. However, in a futuristic/postapocalyptic setting, how can I thematically create a megadungeon? Obviously, I couldn't use an abandoned castle ect. but I'd like to have a range of options.

I could obviously use a cave system or abandoned building, but are there any others?

I believe this question is system-neutral, but in case it is important the system I am using is Stars Without Number.

I also don't need advice on keying or mapping, unless I'd need to make significant changes to a standard approach (corridors and rooms with branches, hidden doors and occasional traps) to use the suggested method.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 30 '13 at 2:02

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I did a massive comet/meteor as a dungeon of sorts, Larry Niven-style. For space dungeons, WH4K loves the Space Hulk a massive space wreck that's collected other wrecks and bad stuff. – Mark Rogers Dec 4 '12 at 19:36
Better answers to a question like this will go beyond a brainstormed list to a methodology or approach. Furthermore they will use Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and not just yell out random ideas. The mods want this question to stay open even though it could just be a list question - the current answers are making us want to kill it with fire. Be warned. – mxyzplk Dec 5 '12 at 4:00
As it stands, this question requires tightening up so that "lists of theme" answers are excluded. Beyond theme, @Dakeyras, what do you need from this answer? – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 30 '13 at 2:03

10 Answers 10

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Three ideas for you:

Edit I failed to mention mines. Some friends of mine are practically morlocks and spend much of their time underground. They are from Teesside (a heavy industrial area in the north east of England) and the whole surrounding area is riddled with mines, many of which interconnect. His site has plenty of resources, including mine maps.

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I created a mega-dungeon in an arcology for a sci-fi game once. The bottom layers were sewers, maintenance tunnels, etc, and largely un-used, even in the arco's heyday, and this was long past it. The fun part was that unlike most dungeons, the progression was UP towards the goal, not down.

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Not yet mentioned: out of control nanobots endlessly building an enormous structure for purposes unknown. This can be as large or as small as you want. It can even be so large as to be the cause of the apocalypse.

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Build a dungeon that goes up instead of down, in an abandoned skyscraper. Clog the fire escape stairs so that the players must wind their way through, looking for ways to get to the top where the creature they are hunting lairs. Traps natural and unnatural would be abundant. Holes in ceilings allow players to traverse levels, and make good use of rogue skills and ropes.

Consider that Corporations owning/leasing only a few levels of any given structure allows for different themes and hazards as the players climb: an abandoned pharmaceutical lab on the 20th floor is home to mutated creatures, a lawyer's office is infested with snakes and spiders, and the deranged business man on the 45th floor thinks you are there to take his business from him and refuses to surrender his office.

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Any human-build and by the time of the game play mostly abandoned or "re-purposed" structure in a hazardous environment works well. It leaves the player characters with only few ingress and egress points, which can also be limited as to how big the equipment carried through them can be and at which times they are usable at all. If the dangerous environment is also "leaking in" in some way, they can also add an element of urgency to the mix.

Examples of such environments are:

  • Space and moon stations (dangerous environment: vacuum and near-vacuum)
  • Deep underwater colonies, plants and laboratories (dangerous environment: cold and highly pressurised water)
  • Arctic stations (dangerous environment: extreme cold and large distances with no shelter, food or fuel)
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The underground, high-tech laboratory complex where the cause of the apocalypse originated.

You can fit a lot of details into that theme that reinforce your group's connection to the history of the setting. Parts of the complex will still be working; parts will be in ruin; evidence of the apocalypse's genesis will be available in some locations, allowing your players (if not the characters) to get glimpses — and a dawning realisation/horror — of what may have happened. You could even have apocalypse-related things here that haven't shown up (yet) on the surface – this is where it all went down, so there may be unique and especially weird lingering effects or creatures.

And because it's a megadungeon, the PC party may spend months or years of game sessions delving before you have to worry about "giving away" every secret of the apocalypse, and the prospect of learning more is a great secondary (or even primary!) motivator for the players to engage with the location with extended exploration.

Possible things/regions of such a megadungeon:

  • Remnants of experiments that were running when the site became Ground Zero
  • Still-working (or mostly working) automation, including possibly robots and (insane?) AI
  • Where the scientists and workers lived on-site
  • Supporting industrial bases that the complex had to be more self-sufficient
  • Administrative areas
  • Areas of the complex that were abandoned even when it was still being used – you could get layers of history in this way
  • Failed experiments, or sealed-off areas quarantined, some now exposed by the post-apocalypse, or otherwise accessible by people who don't know the proper containment procedures when entering (such as the PCs)

For inspirations, Valve Software's Half-Life (the first one) and Portal 2 games feature strongly-themed environments based on technological research complexes that were implicated in, or directly impacted by, an apocalyptic event.

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+1 for an megadungeon concept which ties exploration to plot development. It's the best way to make things interesting! – GMJoe Dec 5 '12 at 4:20
The fallout shelters / vaults from Fallout can also be a source of inspiration. – vsz Dec 5 '12 at 7:09
+1 for Portal and the implied (?) Half Life reference (the laboratory complex where the apocalypse originated.) Expanded the Portal theme in my own answer. – OpaCitiZen Dec 5 '12 at 13:00
@OpaCitiZen Both a Half-Life reference, and an Apocalypse World game. We found the lab where the psychic maelstrom was "born", and tried to "reboot" it—though after much angst, we killed it instead. – SevenSidedDie Dec 5 '12 at 17:54

in a futuristic/postapocalyptic setting, how can I thematically create a megadungeon?

If you want a strong running theme for the whole thing, I would suggest looking at some real world examples of massive areas ruled by a theme. How and if the original theme survives the apocalypse is up to you. It is possible the area is re-discovered and the theme re-interpreted by later generations. Think about how the artifacts of the area will influence that rediscovery.

Two of the places on earth with the strongest running theme I can think of would be,

  • Vatican City - tunnel system is massive and parts are used practically. Others parts are crypts and old escape tunnels and the like. There are even vaults full of art, so I hear.
  • Disney World - again there is an impressive tunnel system that is used daily. Some say Walt is down there, somewhere, frozen...waiting...

Thinking of some of the twisted and macabre things that could evolve a hundred or so years after an apocalypse in such locations should be fun. Micky, the dark god of steam power, tamer of the iron horse.

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A malfunctioning teleport system

Pick a range of options already suggested by the other answers and link them with a semi-functioning, broken down portal (teleport) system, possibly built by the military, by aliens, by artificial intelligence(s), or even an evil combination of these. Make sure getting out without using portals and following certain routes is virtually impossible by imperceptible railroading, by using clues and plotlines available and resolvable only through repeated re-entering the portal-dungeon.

I know @SevenSidedDie has touched upon this by mentioning Portal 1-2 by Valve: the difference is that instead of the run-down environments I'm emphasizing portal technology, which could / should be central element here... or, if it's run by a malfunctioning AI, even the arch-villain controlling the "dungeon."

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In Futurama, "Old New York" lies beneath "New New York". You might take that approach... an ancient city thats been covered over by a new one. It could be actually buried - filled in with dirt, with buildings connected by tunnels built between them by the inhabitants. Or just 'covered', with the streets still visible, and some sort of platform covering the forgotten city.

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There's one big problem -- humans rarely build strong internal walls. That means all the pathing becomes nearly meaningless, anyone with a hammer can make their own path.

Even much of the underground stuff is basically just a tunnel to a room, not a megadungeon. (Take Cheyenne Mountain--one tunnel with blast doors, one room inside with some buildings on springs inside. It's built to be secure, not to isolate parts of it from other parts of it.)

Thus I would like to take a different approach. Take a city of big skyscrapers, add one big nuke off to the side for the world's biggest domino topple. Now you have all sorts of spaces underneath the rubble where buildings fell against their neighbors and didn't completely collapse.

Another possibility: A moonbase built without a central government--people just connected to the existing structure in whatever fashion was convenient. This requires something that maintains the atmosphere and fixes leaks, though.

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In a post-apocalypse, maybe our current construction habits are a relevant impediment to plausible megadungeons. But in a futuristic setting, all bets are off. The future is pretty big. – SevenSidedDie Dec 29 '13 at 18:41

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