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3 Posts

Posted - 06 Mar 2018 :  14:39:10  Show Profile Send Thordic a Private Message  Reply with Quote  Delete Topic
New member here but I've been lurking a long time - kiss but I had a question that I think is better asked here than somewhere else.

For those of you who have DMed Undermountain, what was your approach? I've run it once before acc obviously when the party is in the detailed area you are good but once they start wandering the sheer amount of rooms and encounters makes it a little tougher to DM. My players are returning to UM as part of a second campaign and I'm trying to prepare better this time around.

I've put together a pretty robust encounter table for random encounters on level one but how have others handled rooms? Random rooms like Wizards has on their site? Did you do massive prep and try to detail areas out the map? My players enjoy the random deadliness of undermountain but I'd like to try to weave more things in where an event in room A impacts a later event in room B, etc.

I've been dming for almost 25 years but I've never found a great solution for mega dungeons so I figured I'd see if anyone had any suggestions.


3 Posts

Posted - 06 Mar 2018 :  14:42:18  Show Profile Send Thordic a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Also not that it should matter too much but this is a 2e campaign in case that influences your answer.
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George Krashos
Master of Realmslore

5343 Posts

Posted - 07 Mar 2018 :  03:53:33  Show Profile Send George Krashos a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Your first point of reference is the most simple one: once you are in Undermountain, it's not that easy to leave. The Yawning Portal is the classic entry/exit point for adventurers, but the denizens of the dungeon know that too and likely lie in wait - that is unless another denizen has eaten them in turn while they are waiting! So, if your adventuring party is on a specific mission or just simply having a wander, they'll need to realize that eventually they'll need to get back to the surface or risk a long term stay. That should probably be reinforced to them by an NPC before they head in.

After that, you have to decide (and likely the players will decide for you) whether they will keep their forays short and sharp or want an extended stay. On that basis, I would have a lot of empty rooms on level 1. It has the most traffic and the most turnover due to other adventuring bands. That might be boring but you can spice it up with non-treasure finds (a journal with info on other parts of Undermountain), magic like a magic mouth that gives warnings or simply tells the tale of what happened to some one. You might want to introduce an NPC adventuring group that the party encounter - they don't necessarily have to be bad guys - who are a recurring interaction.

Ideally, you have some overarching idea as to what it is you want your players to do in Undermountain. Get to Skullport, visit the Promenade, find out what happened to Jalum Brossfeather, etc. etc. If all they want to do is wander, I'd come up with a dozen or so different encounters (with interesting aspects - creatures branded with a distinctive rune; mercenaries wearing a particular symbol; worshippers of a particular deity) which you can build off if they float your party's boat - they find a spellbook with the same distinctive rune on a corpse, they return to the surface and get attacked by other worshippers of that deity, etc. etc.

You don't have to pre-plan everything but if you have a constant rotation of up to a dozen "rooms"/encounters at your disposal, you can build the campaign incrementally - and it is likely that the party itself will point you in the direction your campaign ends up at - "We have to do something about the Eye! He's just enslaved our comrades, the Company of the Ebon Blades".

Have fun!

-- George Krashos

"Because only we, contrary to the barbarians, never count the enemy in battle." -- Aeschylus

Edited by - George Krashos on 07 Mar 2018 03:54:01
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Master of Realmslore

1824 Posts

Posted - 07 Mar 2018 :  05:02:58  Show Profile  Visit xaeyruudh's Homepage Send xaeyruudh a Private Message  Reply with Quote
First: I defer to George here.

I wanted to add an anecdote about a somewhat successful "winging it" dip into Undermountain. The party had an objective, but they were easily distracted from it by a torn coin pouch -- the owner was nowhere to be seen but gold & silver coins, bits of dropped gear, and blood drops led off into a hallway, and they were hooked. Shadows (the monster) can be terrifying in a lightless dungeon. A wellshaft of glowing water was irresistible. After dropping through the one-way portal (the source of the glow) they were attacked in the water by an effectively invisible aballin, and felt proud of themselves when they reached a shoreline with a few hp and a few spells remaining. They suspected the aballin wasn't dead yet, though, so they pushed up the slick rocky beach... and that's when the expletives started flowing; the walls and floor of the corridor leading away from the beach were covered with colonies of the various molds described in the Undermountain II box. There was a room filled with brown mold, and some yellow too at some point. This was cobbled together from a couple of the adventures included in the Undermountain boxes... one involving a well shaft and shadows, and the other was the crazy paladin guy whose name I'm not remembering. Critique after the session included their suspicion that they were outgunned in terms of CR/balance (probably true; I hadn't paid much attention to that) and also that it was the first time in a while that they'd been genuinely afraid their characters would die with no resources left to heal/raise/whatever.

Winging it is nervewracking (for some of us at least) at first, but like roller coasters or bungee jumping, practice makes cocky... the danger of crashing is never eliminated, but fortunately character death is not a career-ending injury for players or DMs. Great players make for a great learning environment.
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3 Posts

Posted - 07 Mar 2018 :  18:59:11  Show Profile Send Thordic a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I have no problem winging it really - in my 25 years of DMing its been 90% 2e D&D so I (sadly) have just about everything memorized. I was just looking to see how other DMs ran Undermountain given the vast amount of undetailed space, especially once you get past level 1.

The first time I ran UM i didn't plan anything and just it up as I went along, and it went pretty well. Just trying to collect ideas if anyone did things differently.

As far as motivation, the party has been collected and "hired" so to speak off the streets of Waterdeep by a group of dwarves with unknown motives. Every player started with 5 level 0 Waterdeep streetrats with a very basic stat block and background and they were all thrown into the Citadel of the Bloody Hand. Those who survived the clearing of the first level were eligible to be made into PCs. I had never handed out pre-gens before but it worked great, a lot of them had notes on how they knew other members of the party, who held a grudge, etc. Three of the pre-gen characters ended up dying by other characters hands due to these grudges - the players loved it.

They are almost finished with the Citadel now (I cobbled together a fairly large dungeon using maps I found online) and are ready to enter UM proper. Last adventure 5 out of 8 PCs died, sadly (mostly due to splitting the party, which is never a good idea) but my players like that UM is a meatgrinder.

Unbeknownst to them the dwarves are working for a prior PC of theirs who was obsessed with getting as much treasure out of UM as possible. So there are plenty of plotlines going on, I just am looking for how others approached the mechanics of running UM.
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Learned Scribe

296 Posts

Posted - 17 Mar 2018 :  00:32:42  Show Profile  Visit Gelcur's Homepage Send Gelcur a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I love dungeons I also enjoy meticulous DM planning, I use off the cuff only when needed. And I would like to think I have learned a lot over the years. One of the first and best lessons I learned from Ed's work was dungeon rooms should have an identity, what was this room used for, what is it currently being used for, etc. So pick your poison how you choose to decorate a room, I mix it up so it doesn't get boring.

  • The Ruins of Undermountain, 2E, had a "Dungeon Dressings Table" which not only included items but sounds and smells.
  • A 3E web enhancement had a "Dungeon Room Description Generator" with 100 random rooms.
  • Halls of Undermountain, 4E, had 3 tables, "Room Purpose", "Natural Room Features" and "Magical Room Features".
  • 3E DMG also had great dungeon building tables.

These help me as a DM picture a story in my head and then I can convey that story to the players. Fighting a monster inside a plain cube gets boring fast, trust me I played a few of those dungeons. But if the room is an old lab, a chute/portal dumps trash rarely, and plant life from the trash has taken hold and grown out of control because of the chemicals, now you have a room with an identity. Maybe those plants spray a gas that impairs motor skills, maybe the lab has an old barrel full of an explosive compound. The room itself is interesting add a fight in it if you please.

Another trick mentioned in multiple UM sources has been don't give them all of UM in one go. Use scare tactics (monsters, noises, horrible impassible traps), blocked paths (locked doors, walls of force, missing doors) and magic (portals, endless hallways) to keep players "confined" to some degree. One of my favorite instances was a party that came up to Wall of Force and they could see the dungeon repairing itself on the other side, up until then they hadn't thought of UM as a living place.

Next time your party passes through this familiar room the Wall of Force is gone or there are another 2 doorways that weren't there before. Or a room with meager set dressing is now full or a full room is now mysteriously empty. These things make the party really feel that they are in a place that is out of their control.

The party come to a town befallen by hysteria

Rogue: So what's in the general store?
DM: What are you looking for?
Rogue: Whatevers in the store.
DM: Like what?
Rogue: Everything.
DM: There is a lot of stuff.
Rogue: Is there a cart outside?
DM: (rolls) Yes.
Rogue: We'll take it all, we may need it for the greater good.

Edited by - Gelcur on 17 Mar 2018 00:36:27
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