Monday, February 25, 2019

Berdendi and the Basis of a Megadungeon

Berdendi (BEAR-den-DIE) is the location of the Fountain of Youth in my setting. Its a massive mountain that runs from the depths of the ocean floor to the limits of the heavens. The Waters of Life top its summit and run down through its innards to the depths below. Scavengers prowl for drops of the glowing green liquid throughout, with those who ascend higher getting a better and better chance at finding a large amount. Those who don't return either found enough or died trying, but either way they're gone now.

The mountain itself feels as wide as it is tall, which is to say that it looks like a huge vertical wall to those who don't know that it curves as you circumnavigate it. Its slopes are incredibly steep but covered in life and moisture, forming massive ivy walls, thick mossed ledges, and tiny waterfalls that drop for hundreds of feet. Hungry thunderbirds roost in the region above the cloud layer, making climbing the outside dangerous at best (this does nothing to deter climbers).

The insides of the mountain is filled with ancient horrors, their lives naturally extended by the Water of Life and their minds and bodies transmogrified to their terrible state by the thirst for the same. Generations of seekers have entered the mountain and they brought with them gear, equipment, spells, methods, ideals. Settlements have been built both inside and outside the mountain, meaning you never know what the next cave will bring. The Waters of Life warp everything inside, even the rock itself, forming living tunnels and caverns. The only thing that keeps climbers coming is that constant dream for the Fountain of Youth.

Berdendi was an attempt of mine to create a Megadungeon that was formed around a specific treasure instead of the conquering of a specific area. I've ran megadungeons in the past and always ran against a constant problem of player motivation. Why were they there? Why did they keep digging down? What were they looking for? The slaying of a god seemed meh and hopeless, the allure of gold too mundane and like the clicker games we'd all played.

The answer of course is that they were there because they wanted to keep playing tabletops and that was the game I was running at the time. They couldn't figure out reasons to keep playing or motivations for their characters to keep going. Why would you go take on Orcus as a common shmuck? The prospect of treasure only kept its allure until they'd made enough for their characters to retire, and then what? My megadungeon games have inevitably ended in burnout, with myself cancelling the game due to a perceived lack of interest.

Berdendi is instead an attempt to make a megadungeon and its reason for existence famous. Berdendi isn't an obscure dungeon tucked deep into obscurity: its Everest and immortality rolled into one. Its competitive deadly bloodsport competing for the highest prize of all: godhood. The only reason you'd be there is if you were already crazy enough to be a fanatic.

Why do you press onwards when you're bedecked in gold and jewels? Because the only treasure that matters is at the top! Why do you brave the horrific monsters and incredibly high lethality for the merest chance at the treasure? Because the treasure is worth it, man. How do you keep finding new party members insane enough to come with you on your journey to the top? Because you can guarantee that they want the treasure just as bad as you do.

Making the treasure be liquid, flowing and self-sustaining was a move I made to build the thirst for the Fountain in the players themselves. The Waters of Life are healing and motivation all in one, an accomplice to continued ascension and an incentive towards hoarding treasure that puts a target on your back. I'll make sure they find a few drops early on, and the first time they start using it they'll begin getting addicted to using it both in and out of character. I can even reward XP for how many drops they obtain, making it a reward in and of itself.

Making the default goal of a megadungeon be "attain treasure" isn't any different from a lot of other megadungeons, but having the treasure be more directly aligned with direct power increases is what sets the Water of Life apart from gold. I'm not under the impression I'm doing anything revolutionary with Berdendi, but I do think that this approach will certainly prolong burnout on both mine and my players' ends.


  1. Brilliant stuff! Do you have any other 'major treasures' in mind?

    1. I think the important part of any 'major treasure' is that it:

      A) be able to be broken up into tiny pieces
      B) be more powerful the more pieces you have
      C) have a regional presence
      D) be famous w/ its effects and description

      If I wasn't using the Fountain of Youth, I'd go for some other treasure immediately recognizable from pop culture for myself and my players that fits that criteria. Most of the ones I can think of I would have to modify slightly to make them fit, but I could do it.

      An idea:
      - The Philosopher's Stone. It was shattered long ago, but holding a piece of it allows wizards to power spells without spending their own life essence. Legends say that holding the heart of the gem will allow someone to rebuild the stone and attain power even to rival the gods...

    2. Hmm. Seems like things are a bit attached to important stats. So we have:
      - Healing
      - Magic
      - Attack? Each fragment of the MacGuffin gives you +1 attack per round, but every other user knows where you are?
      - Defence? Bleh
      - Extra lives! Much better

  2. This is a really good idea! I'm going to have to steal it if/when I get around to running a megadungeon game.


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