A friend of mine and I came up with an idea to run a mega-epic open table dungeon crawl over the course of an entire 3 days convention, and we have some questions and thoughts as to how to make it work. First, just to make clear, by open table we mean that players can sit down at the table freely (up to say, 5 players at once), pick up a character and join the crawl, until they had their fill or otherwise decide to leave the table. Meaning, players are free to come and go as they please, join and enjoy some time of dungeon crawl, and the crawl continues as long as there're people who dare venture into it.

Our questions:

  1. Is there a specific system or mechanic we should consider? We though of using D&D [5], for now we have no real experience with the system, but it seems like a good fit.
  2. How to deal with unbalanced parties? A couple of issues that came to mind are A) dealing with a single player that made it to mid-high level (let's say for simplicity that it's D&D and he's level 10) while the rest of the party are level 1; and B) A level 5 party suddenly are joined by a new level 1 character.
  3. How to deal with a clean slate situation while previous parties cleared a major chunk of the dungeon already? The easiest example being the first day of the con is over, the players so far made it to a third of the way down and the encounters in these levels are about level 6, what to do at the beginning of the 2nd day? Should we start over at level 1? Start at level 6? Respawn the monsters?
  4. Considering we really want the players to make it to the end of the dungeon by the end of the con (and not sooner of course), how many encounters should we plan?
  5. Any general tips and advice would also be appreciated. What are we missing that would make this event a blast to take part in?

Finally, we'd really appreciate any help and input, but what we're mostly looking for is people who have real experience running this sort of event (though I guess people who played in such an event can also be of help).


  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you run many megadungeons in non-con situations? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 15:17

4 Answers 4

  1. If at all possible I would go with a system that you are familiar with. Running something like this is stressful enough on its own, and introducing a set of rules you don't know well will slow things down and add extra complications.

  2. I would get rid of the idea of using XP individually, and level up all characters at the same time. You could also have versions of each character at each level you would expect them to reach over the duration of the con. Locking the level of the characters removes any issue of unbalanced parties, and guarantees the level the party will be at for each individual encounter you have, making it much easier to balance fights etc. Also, when you are designing your encounters, try to work the number of monsters/challenge per PC. This allows you to easily scale each encounter according to the number of players you have in the group at a particular time.

  3. I would design the adventure so that it has three sub-sections, each of which with a mini-climax at the end of the day. This rewards players who stick with you for a day, and gives a sense of structure to the whole thing. If you run with my idea of locking the progression of characters through the adventure, you will know the levels they will be at each point, and will be able to design each day's adventures accordingly.

  4. This is hard to answer definitively without knowing the system you are going to use, as different systems run at very different paces. However, my generic advice would be to identify your core encounters - those that are absolutely required to move the story within the adventure along. Leave plenty of wiggle room to account for slow play, but also have additional optional encounters that you can drop into play should the group be getting through the story faster than you anticipated.

  5. Keep it simple.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ 1. Also it looks like the whole Crawling will be mostly fighting. And battle is the most rule-overburdened part of most RPGs, and you will be doing it most of the time, so get helpers, tables, cheat-sheets to make it flow easily and fast in a system you know inside out! \$\endgroup\$
    – Falco
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the answer, some really sound advice here. I really like your idea about mini-climaxes. Our only trouble with locking the level of the party is that we want to give players a chance to ease into their character abilities. For this, it seems natural to hand them (or have them quickly make) a beginner level character. How would you handle this? \$\endgroup\$
    – Donjim
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 22:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that opens up a great deal of complexity from your perspective as GM, and would make it much harder to plan for and balance. Depending on the system you choose to use, I would just have a range of characters that have different levels of inherent complexity in their use, and try and get a sense from players as to how experienced they are when they come to the table and how much you think they will be able to take on. I personally wouldn't remove the XP lock because of the difficulties it would introduce, but if you do then there's some sound advice in some of the other answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 22:12

I would suggest playing an old version of D&D (AD&D 1 or earlier) or some retroclone. Several of the problems you outline are nonissues when playing D&D in the old school way.

  1. As mentioned, old D&D. It is simple, people can create their characters with little prior information (just roll 3d6 in order and select character class; either let them select starting equipment with honour system or print out price lists).
  2. Experience is acquired slowly enough that this probably won't be a problem. Furthermore, characters of different levels can adventure together. It is assumed to happen anyway, since it is assumed that characters will occasionally die when adventuring.
  3. Restock the dungeon. See any megadungeon PDF available online for an example. Is Castle of the Mad Archmage still available for free online? The process is quick and provides satisfactory results.
  4. Players will advance as far as they will. If you want a climatic finishing encounter, make it mobile and key it to the real time - at the end of the final day of convention, the demon will be free to rampage, or whatever. Add hints in the dungeon. Maybe a very difficult method of preventing it.
  5. D&D is fun in and of itself.

A friend ran a D&D adventure in the Tomb of the Iron god in Tracon. You can find actual play report in Finnish at Pelilauta: http://pelilauta.fi/index.php/topic,1606.msg34621.html#msg34621 , http://pelilauta.fi/index.php/topic,2135.msg34623.html#msg34623 . The table was open for people to come and go as they will, and old players briefed the new ones on what was happening. It played smoothly. Most of the players where anime fans with no or little rpg experience.


In response to question 2: Give everyone experience at the same rate, and introduce new players with the same experience total. If you keep everyone at the same level, it won't be an issue.

In response to question 4: I can't tell you how many encounters to plan, but I can tell you you're going to have to be able to speed things along, in combat and out. When it comes to combat, make sure everyone knows they should be paying attention and planning their next move when everyone else is having their turn, and they can't sit there deliberating while everyone is waiting for them. Similarly, while out of combat you can encourage players to come to decisions fairly quickly, but in my experience combat is the real time-sink. If you're not an experienced DM, do several practice runs in combat, and for Gygax's sake make sure you've read the book back to front and know the rules. If you're stopping every few minutes to look something up it's going to slow the game down significantly. If worst comes to worst, you can always make a decision that makes sense and apologise later if it turns out the rules say something else.


Narrative RPG

There are several systems with minimal Rules and a narrative Focus - one Example is Wushu Open It is quite different from usual RPGs like D&D, but if you like it it will solve most of your problems:

  1. Easy mechanics, a minimal,free rulebook and 5 minute Character Creation on any stage of the game.

  2. Wushu doesn't have player levels, if your characters get stronger ingame they get harder challenges and any player can step in at any time and is just as usefull as the rest of the party. Like in a Movie - for example Lord of the Rings, Gandalf, Legolas and Sam are not the same power-level, but they get still in on the action, everyone does heroic things and the group would fail without any one of them.

  3. Just keep on going, playing the same part again is boring for you as DM and prevents players who may come by again from the first day to play again. If you progress the story further, they may come again for a little action, or friends may tell each other about. I would try to make each day one distinct act of the story and start the next day with an introduction "what has happend so far" Like a Mini-Series with 3 Movies.

  4. It depends heavily on Players, Dice-Luck and more, But I would plan for 5 Big Encounters of the Day ( 3 being the midgame Boss, 5 the end-boss) and a whole table full of smaller encounters (Minions, Traps, random strangers, treasures, ghosts, settlements) which you can throw in any time to steer the pacing.

  5. If possible get Nice Props! Maybe some miniatures, a Map - so people can sit down and feel a little bit immersed with all the other stuff going on around. Have quick cheat-sheets ready for the players, with the most basic rules!!! And you could prepare an introduction flyer giving some information about the setting, so people passing by, don't have to interrupt gameplay, but can read a small introduction, like the back of a book-cover and are up to speed what your game is about!


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .