I've become ever more convinced that a "tent pole" megadungeon is pretty much a sine qua non for an old school campaign. Dungeons & Dragons was written, after all, with megadungeons in mind and I don't think you can really get the most out of the game if you avoid the whole concept. In thinking about this, I realized two things. First, there's never really been a properly presented old school campaign setting, because none that I know of have ever given us the megadungeons around which they revolved. It seems to me that, if I were an old school publisher looking for a "killer app," it'd be a well-done megadungeon and surrounding wilderness, done in a way that fosters sandbox/hexcrawl play. Second, I've now realized that my growing dissatisfaction with AD&D 2e stems in part from the fact that few of its many and much loved campaign settings had much scope for a tent pole megadungeon. Or rather, megadungeons are possible in them, but they weren't generally aspects of the setting that official support encouraged. Consider:
- Al-Qadim: A megadungeon might work in this setting with some work. It'd be a bit odd, given the socio-cultural nature of the setting, but there are enough ruined cities around in the desert that I could imagine it.
- Birthright: A megadungeon in Cerillia would really shift the focus of the campaign away from the power politics for which it was created.
- Dark Sun: Actually, this setting probably could have handled a megadungeon. Indeed, there was even a boxed set, City by the Silt Sea, that featured the ruined city of Giustenal that could have been presented as a megadungeon. Alas, it was instead used as a springboard for advancing a execrable metaplot. More's the pity.
- Dragonlance: I have a hard time imagining a megadungeon on Krynn, but perhaps I'm too biased to consider the possibilities.
- Planescape: I can't even begin to imagine what a megadungeon campaign in the Planes would be like.
- Ravenloft: The megadungeon would probably work least well in this setting of all those I've listed.
- Spelljammer: Interestingly, the Spelljammer itself was effectively a megadungeon and even got its own boxed set detailing it. Unfortunately, it was as bland as white bread and it was clear that TSR wasn't all that keen on doing much more with the concept.
In any case, I think the tent pole megadungeon is, despite its antiquity, something we've never really seen on the publishing side of things. That may be because it's inherently un-publishable, but I'm not convinced of that. Indeed, I'm starting to think that a tent pole megadungeon might in fact be a rare example of an old idea that could catch fire again. The difficulty, of course, is in how its presented and in resisting the urge to over-detail and brandify the megadungeon to the point of uselessness. Some ideas are swirling in my head and I'll chat about them later, probably after I've reviewd Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works. Having now read through the entirety of that module, I have some very clear ideas on what works and what doesn't and where the approach taken in that product went awry and why. They're lessons I've taken to heart while working on Dwimmermount and I'll elaborate on them soon.