Courtney Campbell at the Hack & Slash blog is habitually one of the most sensible voices coming out of the OSR, but the latest post on the blog concerning megadungeons is really insightful and worth a read – even if megadungeons are not your cup of tea.
In particular, I very much appreciated the point that a) megadungeons are not adventure paths (a much kinder term than “railroad”) or sandboxes and should be treated distinctly and b) there are specific rules features in many old school games which make sense for that mode of play but not for others. Light, vision, down-to-the-turn timekeeping, encumbrance – these are things which often you don’t particularly need in sandboxes or adventure paths or actively get in the way, but as Courtney points out they are extremely important for megadungeon purposes.
Take encumbrance, for instance – for most sandboxy or adventure path purposes, you really don’t need detailed rules for such a thing. Just eyeball it, make an honest assessment of whether it’s a sensible amount of stuff for a human being to carry, and move on. (Spending some time LARPing is a great help here because it gives you a baseline of how much someone of your fitness level can tote around a village all day wearing a particular set of kit before they get tired.) Working it out down to the last gold piece is a positive nuisance.
Not so in a megadungeon context – since resource management and the question of how much material you can move out of the dungeon, into the dungeon and around inside the dungeon is crucial, encumbrance takes on a great deal of importance which it simply doesn’t have in other contexts.
The takeaway point for those who aren’t into megadungeons as such is this: sometimes if there’s a rule in a game where you look at it and can’t tell what Earthly purpose it has, or you simply find never useful, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad rule – it could be there to support a style of play which you hadn’t considered.