Friday, August 4, 2023

Design Notes for Brechewold's Big (Not Mega) Dungeon

At its heart, Brechewold is a failed megadungeon. Actually, it began life as this post, a way to quickly generate wings of a magic school. However, I’ve come to see random generators as best for smaller dungeons, where the results can be made coherent more easily. In a larger environment, especially where the generator must be repeated, things tend to take on a bland sameness, no matter the creativity of the random tables.

I set out to turn the original post into a completely keyed megadungeon. In my naïveté, I thought this might end up being a short pamphlet that I could put up on DriveThruRPG. Well, I got to 101 rooms, got tired, liked the symbolism of the number, and stopped. That’s big, but to me “mega” should evoke feelings of endlessness and incomprehensibility. We can argue over how many rooms it takes to create that feeling (300?), but I don’t think I hit it.

Still, I do think the dungeon is big enough for my purpose. It supports many delves and is dense enough to require several trips to the same location to explore it fully.

So, the center of a Brechewold campaign is the big ol’ dungeon below the castle in which the school resides, representing older, abandoned parts of the school and previous inhabitants of the site. It has seven levels. Do I need to say that if you read on you could spoil something for yourself?

I. Cellars - This is the most conventional dungeon, with a few booby traps, some neat tricks and boons, and an avoidable boss monster ghost. It’s training wheels for Brechewold and aimed especially at people who are new to old school play (most of my players).

II. Aviary - An experiment in building a concentric dungeon - in this case, concentric bird cages. There are helpful birds, dangerous birds, and birds in between. Most importantly, there’s a game of snakes and ladders - as in, you’re actually supposed to play the board game. There’s also a disgraced professor in hiding who could function something like a merchant, but the real secret on this level is the hidden armory of crazy staves, inspired by the scene in if…. when they find all the military-grade weapons and turn them on the teachers.

III. Orrery - This has the first of four secret sub-levels, a castle on Mars reachable by a magic carpet. It also contains a big anti-gravity orrery that clever players could use as an ambush, and two secret rooms: one that holds an item that makes the “end” of the dungeon considerably easier, and another where the eponymous Yellow Book resides.

IV. Antiquities and Alchemy - I’m pretty proud of the Dream Vault sublevel here, where some characters need to act in the real world while others act in a parallel dreamland to unlock a magic item. It’s the most Zelda part of the book. The alchemist’s laboratory is full of my favorite kind of dungeon shit: stuff the players know their characters shouldn’t mess with, but they can’t help themselves.

V. Archive and Ruins - This is where the school starts to give way to older inhabitants of the site, like a dwarf fortress and the tomb of a Celtic chieftain. There’s a dwarven gate to other dimensions operated by binary, which to me feels very logical for dwarves to do. Not sure how easy that will be to figure out. There are also some goblins running a diploma mill, of course.

VI. Demonium - I’m also very proud of the way to get into this level: you have to let your character be killed by an evil doppelgänger, which is some Metal Gear Solid type shit. This is where the dungeon really starts to take on a metaphysical Mythic Underworld character. There’s a gate to Hell, natch.

VII. Crystal Cave - This is where Nimue is guarding Merlyn trapped in crystal. You didn’t think he was really gone, did you?

Interconnectivity: One of the most important ways to make a dungeon really sing (and feel disorienting) is to provide lots of connections between levels. On the first level alone, there are less-than-obvious ways to get to every other level. In fact, there is an extremely easy way to get to the very end of the dungeon - It just requires a (literal) leap of faith and will hopefully feel obvious in hindsight.

I’ll be back next week with more about the book’s other components. On sale now at Gen Con, booth 2930.


  1. I loved the book. Might be one of the best things I've read for LOTFP, especially for how different it is from the corpus. Should have a review up in the next day or so (at the Lich House) gushing about it, but wanted to drop in and give a hearty cheer first. Great job.

    1. John, as a longtime (looongtime) reader of the Lich House, this made my day. Thanks, dude!