Megadungeon Design Journal #1
Probably since my first reading of S4 The Lost Cavers of Tsojcanth in about 1982-83 I was bothered by how poorly the Introduction text jived with the actual caverns themselves. Fellow blogger Joe Bloch (the Greyhawk Grognard) posted an attempt to shoehorn in the idea that the caverns were the Witch Queen’s seat of power in a two part article here and here. That kind of explanation, however, never sat well with me. Much of Joe’s introduction to this idea explains my objections to it, so I won’t waste time on it here. It shall have to suffice to say that the caverns as presented don’t seem to be capable of providing the infrastructure necessary to rule an empire consisting, minimally, of Perrenland and Ket, but possibly encroaching on the northern Nomads and Tusmit (I imagine the Witch Queen would probably have been smart enough not to tussle with Furyondy or any of its protectorates).
So what I decided to do about it is this; I’m going to design a megadungeon set in Iggwilv’s Horn, and protected by illusion and other powerful magics that actually served as the Witch Queen’s true seat of power, and contained the Demon Trap that ensnared Tsojcanth and Graz’zt (among others) and bound them to her service. I’ll explain below how I intend to do this.
The Introduction to The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth contains a lot of statements that make this project difficult to justify ‘in-setting,’ so to begin with I am taking the Introduction almost in its entirety as lies started by Iggwilv herself to misdirect those looking for her seat of power and treasure trove. This transforms the caverns into a red herring of the most dangerous sort.
I’m also considering what lore from later TSR and WotC products I might want to use surrounding Iggwilv. For instance Tsojcanth somewhere along the line was described as an ancient wizard of great power, or the cambion child of Fraz-Urb’luu.
Gary Gygax has cited the Finnish epic Kalevala as inspiration for Iggwilv. The name of Louhi, a character in the Kalevala, is given by Gygax as an alias of Iggwilv. Louhi is a wicked queen of the land known as Pohjola in Finnish and Karelian mythology. As many mythological creatures and objects are easily conflated and separated in Finnish mythology, Louhi is probably an alter-ego of the goddess Loviatar. Of further interest Iggwilv is said to have once gone by the name Natasha and had been adopted by the witch Baba Yaga, it was under this tutelage that she became a powerful spellcaster. Later, using the name Tasha, she became the apprentice of the famous Grehawk wizard Zagig Yragerne. She served as a member of the Company of Seven and developed the many Tasha spells that are now widely known, and perhaps others only known to herself.
I’m going to use some of that, but I’m not decided on which parts. I may also use some of the content from Dungeon Magazine #151 which in my opinion similarly under-develops the location, but has some good backstory elements.
I’m also considering a few of my own lore elements that I’ve not found elsewhere, such as making Drelnza the vampire childe of Kas (Vecna’s general), and additionally bumping up her power level. Another idea revolves around either a persistent effect of the Abyssal breach in the area causing mass forgetfulness, or a great magic spell created by Iggwilv, Tsjocanth and Graz’zt being responsible for locals misremembering, or forgetting altogether where Iggwilv’s stronghold is located. Most of these ideas are targeted at “patching” issues with official lore to more easily dovetail with the premise of this megadungeon.
In creating this project I am trying to be deliberate about my process. I’ve started with an outline of sorts detailing the premise, and several of the upper levels. This outline contains information such as how many entrances to the level, and what type they are; connections to other levels and sub-levels, and why type they are; major themes for the level; most common opponents for each level; and any bosses on each level. I’m also going to be adding factions, their goals, rivals, and territory. All this before taking pencil to graph paper. Once I begin graphing out the levels I want to be mindful of old school design techniques such as non-linear level design, multiple environments, sub-levels, and so forth. These design techniques are spelled out in a five-part series of posts on The Alexandrian titled Jaquaying the Dungeon here, here, here, here and here.
I think that’s about it for now. Next time we’ll take a closer look at my outline and discuss how that translates into a draft level.