Heisenberg's Dungeon

"Intuitively obvious to
the casual observer"
as my college physics
text book would note
(after a page of calculus)
James Mal (Grognardia) published a post back in October 2009, entitled Schrödinger's Dungeon. James' contention was that it is nearly impossible to publish a true megadungeon. Leaving aside the slightly sad irony of this statement in light of the Dwimmermount Kickstarter (unless he has used the Dwimmermount Kickstarter to prove his point, in which case supporters were really funding a research grant to prove his hypothesis...but I digress)...anyway, leaving aside the irony, I actually believe his point has some merit. But I prefer Heisenberg to Schrödinger.

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is simple to state (so long as one is not interested in the why, then you have to do math stuff...not so simple): When it comes to subatomic particles, we can either precisely know the location of the particle or its momentum, but not both. The more we know about one, the less we can know about the other.

In my mind, there is a certain analogy with megadungeons, the more we define it by maps, keys, descriptions and tables, the less mega it becomes. Mega implies something that is almost infinite in scope: Endless caverns, layers, an underworld of tunnels and rooms. Defining it with a map limits its size.

I have purchased a number of published megadungeons, including Stonehell, Barrowmaze, Anomalous Subsurface Environment, and Rappan Athuk. I love them (and shamelessly borrow from them) but they all seem like there is something not quite mega about them. Maybe it is just the experience of being able to see a whole dungeon level, just by opening the book and looking at a map, that makes them smaller. But I suspect it is something more. Putting a megadungeon in print is much like adding a butterfly to an insect collection. You have to kill it to keep it. You have to kill the megadungeon, destroying its growth and dynamic qualities in the process, in order to publish it. More than anything, the mystery and the sense of the vast unknown seems to get snuffed by the act of printing.

Maybe it is just me. I am not certain.


  1. Maybe it has to never be entirely defined, to never stop growing. A megadungeon could live in the internet,


    1. I think it could also be serialized, as John Stater is doing with his NOD publications. But an online dungeon would be easier to grow and modify.

    2. Thanks. I just started in October and I'm really enjoying it.

  2. A very good point. Until you hit all the edges, it can seem infinite and unconquerable. Once you know where those limits are, it will always somehow seem smaller.

    1. I also think that a megadungeon should be published like a campaign setting, not an adventure module, but I haven't thought through what that would look like. A megadungeon has elements of both.